Friday, January 28, 2022 Jan 28, 2022
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Beyond Charisma: Thee Lessons of "The Ollie North Show"
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If that hit miniseries “The Ollie North Show” proved anything, it is that Americans have terribly short memories. And many of us have almost completely lost the ability to look beyond style in search of substance.

For more than fifty years, dating back at least to Stalin’s purges and mass murders, there has been ample evidence that the Russian leaders {the Russian people hardly matter) are not good guys. If that’s going back too far, how about Hungary, 1956? Cuba? Czechoslovakia and the Prague Spring, 1968? Solzhenitsyn? Jewish refuse-niks? KAL 007?

President Reagan has exhorted the nationto help the Nicaraguan contras in numerous speeches; he’s had time to make his case for helping them. The contra leaders have come to Washington to beg for aid that amounts to a fraction of what the Russians are sending the other side. And the people in Congress listened and some said No More Vietnams, while others said well, maybe Just one more.

And then came Ollie, Golly. Ollie, what a show. Boffo Primo eye contact, babe. Soul, heart, guts, teeth, haircut, A star is born-hey, maybe a president or at least a congressman, if Ollie could lower himself to walk the halls of an institution where-well, let’s slow down and take it step by step.

The Olliegarchs may have forgotten some of the old civics text, but people in Congress are “elected,” as we Americans say about this charming custom. A man or woman gets up in front of the people of a district or state and says what he or she would do if “elected..” Over the past six years, a lot of these men and women got up and said they were against military stuff in Central America. Right or wrong, that’s what they said. No More Vietnams. Apparently, millions of Americans liked that kind of talk, and so they did something that is simple yet profound, something that Olliegarchs and others with minimal respect for our system find easy to ignore: come election day, they voted for the candidates whose views were in line with their own. Imagine that. And those votes, over a period. of years, gradually built a majority, first in the House and now, it appears, in the Senate, which does not care for military stuff in Central America.

That’s how it works. Of course, the Olliegarchs know where this will of the people thing can lead. It can lead to Americans who are not in uniform telling those who are in uniform what they can and can’t do-who they can fight and can’t fight, etc. That’s another quaint feature of our system: civilian control of the military. Many Central and South American countries have tried it the other way around, but the fad hasn’t caught on here. (Or has it?)

So at this point, the Olliegarchs must invoke that old whipping boy, the Lyin’ Literal Media. It’s the only card they have left to play. See. they say, the people don’t really know the fcts about the military stuff in Central America, because the Lyin’ Liberal Media, who want the Commies to win because they just love evil, have not told them the facts about the situation. Therefore (and here’s the glory of the plan), the will of the people does not count in this matter. It’s invalid, media-warped. It can be flushed down the toilet, and it’s okay to do what we want instead. Neat! Neat! It’s even neater than it seems at first, because now the Olliegarchs can have their populist cake and eat it too. They can still get all dewy-eyed and choked up about the wisdom and goodness of the American people. and they can ignore the painful possibility that the people have enough information to make a responsible decision and made it when they elected a Congress that’s pretty lukewarm about military stuff in Centra] America or anywhere else.

The Ollie for God movement, with its flood of telegrams and Ollie Dollies and T-shirts and velour bathmats emblazoned with medals, proves that the way to capture the hearts (and the minds?) of the American people is to show that you are sincere. Ollie believed in what he was doing. He means it from the bottom of his heart. And that means he is good. If a nice porson with nice eyes and a nice haircut and boyish enthusiasm looks us in the camera and says he really means it, he is good and right. QED. Of course, the charisma test can lead to problems when equally sincere people disagree about important issues. Vladmir Posner, the Soviet journalist who frequently defends his country on “Nightline,” has nice hair and teeth and sort of youngish enthusiasm, and though his voice seldom breaks, he is sincere, too. But he would disagree with Ollie on almost everything, especially about the menace of Communism. Hmm. The charisma count is pretty even with these two guys, So at this point we might have to stop talking about smiles and eye contact and think about issues and values and duties, Or we could change the channel and watch something else.

“The Ollie North Show” proves once again that we are ignorant of history and thereby doomed to repeat its mistakes. The historical record is clear if we would like to read it-or wait for it to come out on compact disc. Those who want to fight Communism have had years to consider its effects and cast their lot. The young people now clamoring for Ollie gear shift knobs and buzz haircuts are free to join the armed forces. Those too old to serve can send money to back the contras or devote their evenings to recruiting pro-contra candidates for Congress. Then they can elect them and stay on their backs once they get to Washington. That’s what millions of voters did when they elected a Congress that is extremely leery of Any More Vietnams.

During the week of Olliemania, we were treated to comparisons of North with the Jimmy Stewart character in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. However, a better movie parallel is to Seven Days in May, in which the president (Fredric March) and his men discover a plot by General James M. Scott (Burt Lancaster) to take over the government and save us from the Reds, Scot! is finally exposed and defeated, but before he quits, he tries to convince the president that he has lost the support of the people and should resign. “What do you know about the people?” the president asks his disloyal general. “You’ve never faced the voters in your life. If you think the people love you so much, go ask them for their votes.”

Now there’s a neat idea. That’s what it all comes down to in our system-votes. The telegrams and dolls and T-shirts and posters are Just cheap, easy substitutes for genuine conviclion, the gut reaction of a deeply divided people.

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