Let's Set the Record Straight!

THE weathermen I listen to are eternally jovial. But when they muff a big one - like missing a sizable snowfall - they kid around a lot and try to tell us why it happened. But they never look us straight in the eye and say, ``I messed up.'' It's no different in the world of politics, government, and the press. Take the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings legislation. It makes cuts in the budget deficit mandatory. Either targets are met or spending reductions across the board must go into effect. This law, when it was enacted a couple of years ago, was widely denounced, particularly by the Democrats. Many Republicans, too, said it was a terrible way to get a needed job done. But President Reagan was willing to go along with it.

Now, a quiet acceptance of G-R-H has set in. Even Leon Panetta, House Budget Committee chairman, conceded the other morning that the legislation had turned out to be a useful discipline. That's as much as the authors of the bill ever expected.

Those, however, who wailed loudest over the law, the Washington pundits in the press, have not changed their tune. No, they are no longer attacking the law. They just don't mention it - or its salutary effect of making lawmakers get down to business.

Economists, too, are slow to admit their blunders. Walter Heller was a refreshing exception. He once owned up to some reporters that his predictions of the previous year had turned out to be wrong because he had failed to see that a new ingredient - stagflation - had to be taken into account.

But for the most part, economists provide their wisdom and no excuses. During Richard Nixon's administration, for example, several of his top economic advisers told reporters, repeatedly, that a wage-price freeze would be bad for the country.

Then Mr. Nixon suddenly invoked the freeze and, lo and behold, these same economic experts quickly told these same reporters how good this move would be for everyone. When the freeze was dropped, the economists purveyed a mumbo-jumbo rationale on how the stop-and-go process was beneficial. These administration wise men never said they had been wrong.

Columnists often write as though they think themselves infallible - and are often seen as such by their faithful following. Yet even the man who has been acknowledged as the columnist's columnist - Walter Lippmann - was not always ``right'' in his judgments and predictions. Indeed, one observer who looked back concluded the great pundit was ``right'' about 50 percent of the time.

Each year Washington Post columnist David Broder puts together a column on his ``mistakes'' during the past 12 months. Now that's a classy performance!

Politicians often get the picture wrong, too, and never correct it. Whether he knows it or not, Nixon owes an apology to his wife, Pat. In his new book, ``Special Relationships,'' Henry Brandon tells of Nixon's saying in an interview that if Jackie Kennedy had been his wife, he would have won in 1960.

I vividly recall that campaign year. John Kennedy's wife had proved a poor campaigner. Local leaders and the Democratic rank and file found her cold. The press called her a ``wax doll.'' Kennedy himself once brought up the subject of his wife as a campaigner.

``Who,'' he asked me during an interview, ``are the best campaigners among the wives of presidential candidates?'' I mentioned Lady Bird Johnson and Muriel Humphrey as being ``superb'' and felt rather embarrassed that I couldn't mention Mrs. Kennedy. Kennedy, addressing the obvious omission, then said: ``Well, Jackie just doesn't like campaigning. She gets tired easily.''

Mrs. Kennedy did indeed become a memorable First Lady. But she was probably more of a detriment than a help in Kennedy's getting to the White House. At the same time, Mrs. Nixon, who didn't like to campaign either, gave an all-out effort for her husband.

But back to the TV weathermen. If they'd give up all the giggling with anchor people and drop the personalization of weather forecasting, we might not have all these ``flubs'' - or the jovial efforts not to face up to mistakes.

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