No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior

By Joshua Meyrowitz | Go to book overview

14

Lowering the Political Hero
to Our Level
A Case Study in Changing Authority

When the world was young and there were men like gods, no reporters were present ... only poets. —Dixon Wector 1

In The Growth of Presidential Power, William Goldsmith notes that: "After almost 200 years of dynamic if not always continuous growth and development, the American presidency is in real trouble, in a manner and to a degree never before approached in the span of its turbulent history." 2 Although Goldsmith wrote these words in the shadow of the Watergate scandal, our crisis in leadership began before Watergate and transcends it.

All our recent Presidents have been plagued with problems of "credibility." Lyndon Johnson abdicated his office; Richard Nixon left the presidency in disgrace; Gerald Ford's "appointment" to the presidency was later rejected by the electorate; Jimmy Carter suffered a landslide defeat after being strongly challenged within his own party; and even the comparatively popular Ronald Reagan has followed his predecessors in the now familiar roller coaster ride in the polls. 3

We seem to be having difficulty finding leaders who have charisma and style and who are also competent and trustworthy. In the wish to keep at least one recent leader in high esteem, many people have chosen to forget that in his thousand days in office, John Kennedy faced many crises of credibility and accusations of "news management." 4

During the 1980 campaign, Newsweek analyzed recent political polls and concluded that "perhaps the most telling political finding of all is the high degree of disenchantment voters feel about most of the major candidates." 5 Of course, every horse race has its winner, and no matter how uninspiring the field of candidates, people will always have their favorites. The obsession with poll percentage points and the concern over who wins and who loses, however, tend to obscure the more fundamental issue of the decline in the image of leaders in general.

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