Back to the political future with Roscoe

There was no newsman I looked up to more than Roscoe Drummond, a legend at the Monitor and, for that matter, in the entire Washington media world.

Drummond, who spoke with that same punchy certainty that characterized his writing style, was a tiny man, under 5 feet. But you never noticed it. He'd stand in front of you as he held forth assertively on the state of affairs - in Washington, in the nation, in the world, anywhere - and he soon looked 6 feet tall. Another Monitor legend, Richard L. Strout, a 6-footer, himself, who loved to debate Roscoe (Strout from the liberal side, Drummond always from the center or the right), called his friend "dynamic."

Drummond, a charter member of the Monitor breakfast group, used to arrive early and, before the others came, he'd plunge into a deep assessment of the latest political development. He'd talk and talk. I'd hang on his words. After all, here was a newsman who'd been known as President Eisenhower's favorite journalist and who could, whenever he needed, get Ike on the phone.

Indeed, Drummond had been "close in" to several presidents over the years, and because of this access to "inside information" he was followed by millions who read his column, syndicated in several hundred papers.

I particularly remember the pearls of wisdom he'd drop while we were talking.

"Always stay in the paper," he once advised when I spoke of taking on more administrative chores and cutting back on writing.

That was in the 1960s. Well, Roscoe, I guess you can say I've "stayed in the paper."

More than once he said to me, "Always write with authority." And he'd add, "the reader wants to feel that you know what you are writing about."

There was always this element of complete certainty in a Drummond column, attractive to those who liked his point of view and irritating to those who didn't.

I don't know Roscoe's batting average on his judgments. But he did muff one prediction badly.

He was among most of the reporters on the Truman campaign train who, when asked by a pollster during the later stages of the 1948 campaign, said there soon would be a "President Dewey" in the White House.

More than once he spoke of the need to "let the dust settle" before making firm political assessments, particularly of a presidential campaign.

I think he'd agree that a lot of dust settled last week and that the final contestants have emerged. So I have the feeling that Roscoe would be saying to me, "Go to it," as I make some observations:

*The process called "politics" was, itself, further blackened during the primaries. The enormous sums of money raised by George W. Bush was almost obscene. And, Al Gore, who'd kept barely - if at all - in the bounds of legality with his White House and Buddhist Temple fund-raising in 1996, was again pulling in multimillions in contributions.

*The frequent debates amounted to a campaign plus. Sometimes the discourse deteriorated to jabs and sarcasm - but no more than one would expect in that kind of verbal combat. The candidates (except for Alan Keyes, far and away the best debater but never regarded as a relevant participant) tended to lean on memorized position statements. There was absolutely no brilliant Lincoln-Douglas oratory. Yet, on balance, I felt the viewers came away with a pretty good idea of where the men stood on the main issues of the day.

*It was a shame that the process had to be muddied by the insertion of religion into the charges and countercharges of Bush and John McCain. I thought that issue had mercifully been put behind us when John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, was able to convince his critics that he believed in the separation of church and state.

*Will the nation be able to recover from this verbal warfare? Yes, the mud-slinging wasn't pretty. And we're likely due for more. But my reading of history is that we've been through many presidential campaigns like this. Indeed, the strong differences among Americans - geographically, religiously, ethnically, and more - inevitably bring about spirited campaigns and intemperate comments or charges from the candidates.

And, in the end, we'll all quiet down after the November election and come behind the new president.

Even his opponents will be saying to that president, "Okay, let's see what you can do."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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