Monday, November 28, 2005

Should President Bush Hold "Fireside Chats?"

Yesterday on "Meet The Press" Senator John Warner, an only occasionally-reliable Republican, called on President Bush to hold the modern equivalent of Franklin Roosevelt's "fireside chats" about the war in Iraq (and presumably about the global war on terror also). It's an intriguing idea, and I hope the White House considers doing something along those lines. Even so, one wonders how helpful it would be in today's world. Here's how the idea came up yesterday:

MR. RUSSERT: Should the president go before the American people with a map of Iraq and say, "Let me explain to you what is going on in the war. This area's secure. This area is difficult. This area we had captured but now the terrorists have gotten it back"? Take people through it in a very honest, straightforward way, a status report, an update.

SEN. WARNER: Tim, I'm old enough. I served in the last year of World War II in the Navy. Franklin D. Roosevelt did just exactly that. In his fireside talks, he talked with the people, he did just that. I think it would be to Bush's advantage. It would bring him closer to the people, dispel some of this concern that understandably our people have about the loss of life and limb, the enormous cost of this war to the American public, and we've got to stay firm for the next six months. It is a critical period, as Joe and I agree, in this Iraqi situation to restore full sovereignty in that country and that enables them to have their own armed forces to maintain their sovereignty.
(Full transcript here.)

So let's reflect on this idea. With apologies for its length, here are excerpts from an FDR fireside chat:

Fireside Chat 27 (December 24, 1943)
On the Tehran and Cairo Conferences

My Friends:

I have recently (just) returned from extensive journeying in the region of the Mediterranean and as far as the borders of Russia. I have conferred with the leaders of Britain and Russia and China on military matters of the present --especially on plans for stepping-up our successful attack on our enemies as quickly as possible and from many different points of the compass.

On this Christmas Eve there are over ten million men in the armed forces of the United States alone. One year ago 1,700,000 were serving overseas. Today, this figure has been more than doubled to 3,800,000 on duty overseas. By next July first that number overseas will rise to over 5,000,000 men and women.

That this is truly a World War was demonstrated to me when arrangements were being made with our overseas broadcasting agencies for the time to speak today to our soldiers, and sailors, and marines and merchant seamen in every part of the world. In fixing the time for this (the) broadcast, we took into consideration that at this moment here in the United States, and in the Caribbean and on the Northeast Coast of South America, it is afternoon. In Alaska and in Hawaii and the mid-Pacific, it is still morning. In Iceland, in Great Britain, in North Africa, in Italy and the Middle East, it is now evening.

. . .

But everywhere throughout the world -- through(out) this war that (which) covers the world -- there is a special spirit that (which) has warmed our hearts since our earliest childhood -- a spirit that (which) brings us close to our homes, our families, our friends and neighbors -- the Christmas spirit of "peace on earth, goodwill toward men." It is an unquenchable spirit.

. . .

But -- on Christmas Eve this year -- I can say to you that at last we may look forward into the future with real , substantial confidence that, however great the cost, "peace on earth, good will toward men" can be and will be realized and ensured. This year I can say that. Last year I could not do more than express a hope. Today I express -- a certainty though the cost may be high and the time may be long.

At Cairo, Prime Minister Churchill and I spent four days with the Generalissimo, Chiang Kai-shek. It was the first time that we had (had) an opportunity to go over the complex situation in the Far East with him personally. We were able not only to settle upon definite military strategy, but also to discuss certain long-range principles which we believe can assure peace in the Far East for many generations to come.

. . .

I met in the Generalissimo a man of great vision, (and) great courage, and a remarkably keen understanding of the problems of today and tomorrow. We discussed all the manifold military plans for striking at Japan with decisive force from many directions, and I believe I can say that he returned to Chungking with the positive assurance of total victory over our common enemy. Today we and the Republic of China are closer together than ever before in deep friendship and in unity of purpose.

After the Cairo conference, Mr. Churchill and I went by airplane to Teheran. There we met with Marshal Stalin. We talked with complete frankness on every conceivable subject connected with the winning of the war and the establishment of a durable peace after the war.

Within three days of intense and consistently amicable discussions, we agreed on every point concerned with the launching of a gigantic attack upon Germany.

. . .

The Commander selected to lead the combined attack from these other points is General Dwight D. Eisenhower. His performances in Africa, in Sicily and in Italy have been brilliant. He knows by practical and successful experience the way to coordinate air, sea and land power. All of these will be under his control. Lieutenant General Carl (D.) Spaatz will command the entire American strategic bombing force operating against Germany.

. . .

To the members of our armed forces, to their wives, mothers and fathers, I want to affirm the great faith and confidence that we have in General Marshall and in Admiral King who direct all of our armed might throughout the world. Upon them falls the (great) responsibility of planning the strategy of determining (when and) where and when we shall fight. Both of these men have already gained high places in American history, places which will record in that history many evidences of their military genius that cannot be published today.

Some of our men overseas are now spending their third Christmas far from home. To them and to all others overseas or soon to go overseas, I can give assurance that it is the purpose of their Government to win this war and to bring them home at the earliest possible time (date).

. . .

Less than a month ago I flew in a big Army transport plane over the little town of Bethlehem, in Palestine.

Tonight, on Christmas Eve, all men and women everywhere who love Christmas are thinking of that ancient town and of the star of faith that shone there more than nineteen centuries ago.

American boys are fighting today in snow-covered mountains, in malarial jungles, (and) on blazing deserts, they are fighting on the far stretches of the sea and above the clouds, and fighting for the thing for which they struggle.(,) I think it is best symbolized by the message that came out of Bethlehem.

On behalf of the American people -- your own people - I send this Christmas message to you, to you who are in our armed forces:

In our hearts are prayers for you and for all your comrades in arms who fight to rid the world of evil.

We ask God's blessing upon you -- upon your fathers, (and) mothers, and wives and children -- all your loved ones at home.

We ask that the comfort of God's grace shall be granted to those who are sick and wounded, and to those who are prisoners of war in the hands of the enemy, waiting for the day when they will again be free.

And we ask that God receive and cherish those who have given their lives, and that He keep them in honor and in the grateful memory of their countrymen forever.

God bless all of you who fight our battles on this Christmas Eve.

God bless us all. (God) Keep us strong in our faith that we fight for a better day for human kind -- here and everywhere.
Let's just suppose President Roosevelt gave this fireside chat today. Would there not be instantaneous "news analysis" by MSM talking heads, including experts (and Democrats, some running for president) with opposing points of view? For example:

  • There would likely be biting commentary on Chiang Kai-Shek, to whom FDR referred as "a man of great vision, (and) great courage, and a remarkably keen understanding of the problems of today and tomorrow." Imagine the Time cover story on "The Real Chiang,"with a page or two on his past sins, his detractors, and so forth. (There might be some muted worries expressed about our involvement with Stalin, but the left was never too concerned about him.)
  • There would be a biographical summary of Dwight Eisenhower, announced in this chat as the Supreme Allied Commander. Because FDR referred to Eisenhower's performances "in Africa, in Sicily and in Italy" as "brilliant," you can be sure that evaluation would not go unchallenged, especially anything related to "the way to coordinate air, sea and land power." Would the MSM unearth assorted anonymous claptrap about Ike?
  • FDR's acknowledgement that "some of our men overseas are now spending their third Christmas far from home" would probably result in on-camera interviews with soldiers' parents and spouses who miss them, and probably at least one interview with a loved one whose soldier won't ever coming home.
  • Finally, the overtly Christian nature of the message (delivered on Christmas Eve, no less), with its references to Bethlehem and the direct mention of God in each of the last five paragraphs would produce howls of protest, claims of insensitivity to non-Christians, and accusations that FDR is only cynically using religion to bolster his position.
So I wonder if the old media would allow such fireside chats to be effective or helpful today, if President Bush were to attempt broadcasts like the one above, updating the American people on what is happening in Iraq and what he plans to accomplish in the near future. I suspect Bush's broadcasts would be derided as an effort to copy FDR's successful talks with the American people. Even so, I do think the president should consider something along the lines of fireside chats. With the aid of talk radio and the blogosphere he would have a decent change of getting a regular message out and shaping the debate.

UPDATE: John Schroeder at Blogotional has an excellent idea: Why not a White House blog-- or even a presidential blog? The president could post the text of his message and add video and audio-- maybe even podcast.

Indeed-- why not?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What would be the point? Bush is fresh out of lies frightening enough to generate support for this ridiculous affair. He can't rely on the truth either because the truth is no matter how long the troops stay success will only be measured in degrees of failure. The only winners here are the private contractors who have received billions of tax dollars to help create a civil war in the making or the next Iran. 

Posted by Anonymous

Monday, November 28, 2005 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger Bonjo said...

While I would think something like this would be a good idea, I doubt it would have much effect.

How often have you heard the president give an excellent address at a press conference or Oval Office address, only to have it covered only by the cable news networks (i.e., the Big Three don't interrupt their normal programming).

Unfortunately, in today's multimedia culture, people only see what they want to see. Those who want to see the President will see him, and usually have pre-conceived ideas about whether they will agree or disagree with what is said.

But alas, the White House should consider something along these lines. They have let their opponents control the message for too long.

Monday, November 28, 2005 12:20:00 PM  

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