The Great Communicator - NOT!

Media memes are all the rage these days. We see them everywhere. Paul Ryan pumping iron. Hillary Clinton on a plane. Invisible Obama. Romney and the 47%.

But they're nothing new. The two I remember best are Carter's sweaters and Reagan's Great Communicator. The latter is still remembered as a reality. There exist books and memoirs, astute political essays, that give him the title, The Great Communicator.

Here's what I remember. I remember picking up a newspaper one day shortly after the election which put Carter's very practical sweaters in the trash bin, along with the solar collectors on the roof of the White House, and reading that a reporter had asked the new President how he would like to be remembered.

"I would like to be remembered as The Great Communicator." That's probably not a direct quote but, as nearly as I can recall, it's pretty close.

A quick search of the internet for corroboration of my memory turned up only one other who remembers it similarly.

As for the nickname, "the Great Communicator", there was never, ever, any instance, in any article, periodical, or newscast, in which he was called that, until he, in his own speech, declared "I have been called the Great Communicator...". As soon as he said that, every journalist in the world looked at each other and said, "who called him that?"

Ok. It's not exactly the same memory, but the gist of it is this: Ronald Reagan was not called The Great Communicator because he was a "great communicator." He was called that because he asked to be called that, and the media gracefully complied. The outcome is that it has escalated from catch phrase to accepted truth.

Jimmy Carter, in spite of the Camp David Accords, SALT II nuclear arms reduction treaty, and the Superfund Law in response to Love Canal, is remembered mostly for the Iran hostage situation, those anti-oil-industry solar collectors, and namby-pamby sweaters.

Ronald Reagan is remembered for taking down, almost brick by brick, the Berlin Wall. With which he had little or nothing to do.

In the olden days of the 70's and 80's, we did not have the benefit of correction by social media. I'm wondering how far Reagan's self-description would carry today. Unfortunately, probably further than ever. There are media memes happening all the time which never seem to be corrected - and not just on Fox News. Corporate money compared to union money? They are not nowhere near the same tax bracket. Company presidents demanding that workers attend political rallies of their choosing and not-so-subtle hints as to whom employees should support - balanced by long-time union endorsements of political candidates? Union endorsements, when they follow their own rules, are voted on by the membership, not dictated from the top down. And unions don't fire their members.

So be careful out there. Know, when you see a sound bite, that it isn't the whole story. Know, when something doesn't quite ring true (corporate power=union power), it very likely isn't.

My knee-jerk response to the Reagan request to be called The Great Communicator was, "Are you kidding? Shakespeare was a great communicator. You haven't told me anything interesting yet."

And he never did.