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Dislaimer: On average, I discuss politics with dozens of people each week and those among them who have observed Jack Cafferty's work for CNN's "Situation Room" program tend to fall within one of four groups: conservatives who thought him a liberal during the Bush 43 administration and now think he is "coming around" to their views; liberals who once praised him and now think he has "betrayed" his liberal principles; those with or without a party affiliation who think he is a curmudgeon (a somewhat younger version of Andy Rooney), if not demented; and finally, those who share my own opinion that, if he is simultaneously so popular and unpopular, he must be doing something right -- and has been doing something right for most of his 40-year career thus far.
What follows is an It's Getting ugly Out There, his previously published book. The comments are shared for reasons to be explained later.
"I'm the product of a very dysfunctional, sometimes violent, Irish background...my backstory...may help you to make sense of the way I see and interpret what's going on around me. People don't wind up with this kind of jaundiced, offbeat take on things without going through some interesting stuff...But I'm no victim - far from it. I'm fortunate. I learned self-reliance and how to survive. When you get old enough to understand the role that money takes in your life - and in your dreams - and you remember how you watched it all thrown away, it can eat at you for a long time. But it can also teach you some lessons that will shape how you make decisions in your life for your own family. It did that for me...I get paid to ask questions I don't know the answers to and complain about things that bother me... I wasn't [and am not] on the air to pull punches...I've always viewed my career in pragmatic terms - as a paycheck, not a pulpit... As a commentator on The Situation Room, I get to push about two million people's buttons three times every afternoon...I `m under no pressure to be `fair and balanced.' But then neither is the F-word network when you think about it, are they? God, they hate me when I call them that! I couldn't care less about political spin. My guidance comes from my own BS detector...I like to get under people's skin as a way of salting the mines for the e-mail gold I read on the air...[from] some of the brightest, most engaged electronic pen pals in the world...Viewers who connect with me - whatever their positions [and views] - are a major part of whatever success I've enjoyed at CNN, and a bunch of their finest, funniest e-mails are included here. The news can be a very depressing place. Maybe that's why I have developed a tendency to look at stories with a slightly twisted and jaundiced sense of humor... I react viscerally when the headlines get my blood boiling...I attack the status quo because it's flawed and dangerous...Are there solutions to turn around this crisis and fix it? Absolutely."
I share this excerpt concept because many people who are thinking about reading this book know little (if anything) about Jack Cafferty's background and, more specifically, what he sees his role to be when discussing whatever agenda of subjects he does each day on CNN. It is important to keep in mind that the "Cafferty File" blog sometimes attracts millions of hits in one day and just as many e-mail replies. (Yes, that's true: one day.) In this volume, he examines the issues, turning points, and personalities that shaped the 2008 presidential election and Obama's victory. He also examines" the astonishing two-year economic slide toward the unprecedented $700 billion bailout plan signed by Bush a month before Election Day; the treacherous new phases of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the rival characters and strategies of the Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin tickets that made the '08 campaign such an extraordinary moment in our history." And it should be added that, "ugly" as Cafferty thought the situation had become when he wrote the previous book, "I underestimated how bad things would get."
There is plenty of blame to go around for the problems persist if not worsen, not only in the U.S. but also throughout the world. When discussing what Cafferty calls "our last best hope," he means this: "Change comes about in a democracy only when millions of ordinary citizens get riled up enough to be mad as hell about the status quo that's crushing them and leaving the country teetering on the edge of economic collapse." Previously too many people "abdicated the role of a vigilant citizenry, surrendering the country to the people whose self-serving agendas and more active and vested interests in working the system screw us year in and year." It is time for them and their fellow citizens to reclaim what is rightfully theirs. Abraham Lincoln articulated Cafferty's fervent hope best at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863: "It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us... [that together we make certain] that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Whether or not one agrees with Cafferty's opinions, there is no doubt whatsoever abut how much he loves the United States and how deeply concerned he is about doing everything he can to help "save" the American dream, a recurrent subject of comment by him as well as by those who communicate with him. "The term 'American Dream' was born during the Depression," Cafferty once noted on the air. "Economists now refer to the period between 1945 to 1973 as the `Golden Age' when both the rich and the poor and the poor prospered. Not anymore. These days it's almost always been the rich who benefit from economic growth. One expert says the top 1 percent of American families - those earning more than $382,000 - benefited from about three-quarters of the nation's overall growth from 2002 to 2006. This suggests that the other 99 percent of the country may no longer be able to count on the idea of better times ahead. And if that's the case, we are in big, big trouble." (Page 189) Few would deny that today (April 2, 2009) as I compose this review. Worse yet, it seems likely that the economic situation for most people will become even worse than it becomes better.
As noted earlier, Cafferty's purpose in this book is to share his thoughts about the 2008 presidential campaign and the major developments that occurred between the election and inauguration of Barak Obama. Throughout the narrative, he also shares personal experiences that help to illustrate some of his values, insights, articles of faith, and concerns. Here is a representative selection of brief comments that suggest the thrust and flavor of his thinking:
"McCain's persona is like two people living inside one suit: one of them is a charming, funny guy with a great and easygoing personality; the other is a nasty, hot-headed, short-fuse guy who will verbally cut you in half in a heartbeat of you rub him the wrong way." (Page 21)
"That's one curious part of our character. We go along, a fairly peaceful, fairly tolerant people who are reasonably easy to get along with. We put up with a lot of crap. But there comes a point when Americans say, `That's it, you're done. Crew you. You are not going to do this to us anymore.' The history of America is a lot like that. I sure hope the immediate future of America is like that as well." (Page 115)
"Kids are relieved and secure knowing that someone who cares is looking out for what's best for them. My tough love caused my younger kids to sweat things and wonder. [begin italics] How am I ever going to explain this to my dad? [end italics] I'll take that, if it produces the kind of young women they've become. Whether they behaved as they did out of love, fear, intimidation or simply not wanting to disappoint me, the ends justified the means for me." (Page 182)
Born in Chicago in 1942, Cafferty became an alcoholic while a teenager and that created serious problems for several decades. "For years, the most complex and stressful situation Carol Cafferty had to cope with was my drinking problem" and it was "also keeping me down in my career." Fearing that he would lose his beloved wife (whom he referred to as "my life"), he went "cold turkey" in January of 1989. She suddenly died last September of unknown causes. They had been married for 35 years. Cafferty has four adult daughters - Julie, Jill, Leslie, and Leigh -with whom he remains close. In the Epilogue to this book, on one of the very few occasions when has publicly referred to his tragic loss: "If it were not for the strength and support of my four daughters, you wouldn't be reading his. But you are, and I'm glad. To the many thousands of viewers who sent beautiful condolences, I say thanks for taking an interest in a cranky old man who desperately hopes that country that has been so good to him for forty-six years can do some much-needed healing of its own and find its way back as well."
It is not important to agree with all of Jack Cafferty's opinions (or with all of anyone else's, for that matter) but it seems imperative that we become once again a "vigilant citizenry" and steadfastly oppose those forces that threaten to deny or compromise the bedrock values of "The American Dream." If not now, when?