– By Samuel Moore-Sobel
Dan Rather is back. Looking much younger than his 86 years, he is currently on tour promoting his new book, What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism. Regularly sharing his thoughts and insights involving current events with his nearly 2.5 million followers on Facebook, he is apparently quite popular among millennials – a fact befuddling even to the man himself. “I don’t know really,” he offered when asked for an explanation behind his surge in popularity among that age group.
Rather’s book is billed as an attempt to unite fellow Americans around a sense of collective patriotism. He expressed a strong desire to remind others of the past in conversation with Washington Post writer Jonathan Capehart, hearkening back to what in his mind were less divisive times. “I have said many times…this is a perilous time for the nation,” he declared. He claims this bleak worldview has little effect on his hope for the future. “We will get through it…I am optimistic by nature,” he said, making it seem as if brighter days for America remain within reach.
“It is a mark of the American character to have empathy,” he said, a quality that he believes is in short supply in our current day and age. Rather might be onto something, his point easily corroborated by watching CNN or perusing social media. We live in a time in which we collectively fail to see others’ points of view. Or take time to walk a mile in another’s shoes.
In few places does this reality appear more clearly than in politics. Rather noted the tendency of modern Americans to place themselves into “silos,” effectively silencing all other outside stimuli by choosing to listen only to the “echo” of their own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Cable news stations have facilitated this transformation in American life, allowing millions to become more entrenched in their beliefs.
My motivation for attending Rather’s book signing in our nation’s capital stemmed in part from a desire to buck this growing trend. Although my opinions and beliefs differ greatly from those held by Rather, I was willing to listen to an opposing view. Logical fallacies inherent in his arguments could be easily detected: for example, he insisted that he is “elevating the discussions” one moment, while in the next breath he called all Senators of a particular party “cowards,” and repeatedly made accusatory statements aimed squarely at one side of the political aisle. Although unable to get through the night without more than a few grimaces, and perhaps even possibly uttering an audible “no” in response to one of his seemingly loaded barbs, my attention remained. For I believe that American greatness is derived in part from both the cultivation and promulgation of opposing viewpoints in the public square. Disparate views help strengthen our great democratic experiment.
Rather, as all mortal men are, is indeed an imperfect messenger. Yet his personal journey is unique. The average millennial may not remember the controversy Rather generated when he reported on a story scrutinizing George W. Bush’s military record back in 2004. He was eventually dismissed after a 44-year career at CBS, despite his continued insistence that the facts included in the report were indeed true. Most would likely have responded to this turn of events by escaping into the mist of retirement – living out their last days quietly, with the anticipation that by waiting out the storm, their long and storied careers would eventually stand the test of time, leading to the restoration of their names.
Yet Rather pushed on, offering his thoughts to all willing to listen. He appears to desire relevance, while gaining respect for the observations that he has spent a lifetime cultivating. A recent spate of articles suggests that his influence is larger now than it ever was, even when he found himself sitting behind the anchor desk at CBS. Living well is indeed the best revenge.
Perhaps this path can be used as a template for other retirees. Rather proves that no matter your age, your voice still matters. The end of your career may not mark the end of your influence. Social media is simply one tool that can be used to share your thoughts with the world.
No matter your political leanings, Rather’s conclusion is likely one that most can rally around. Turning to JFK’s famous line from his inaugural address – “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” – Rather attempted to localize the sentiment captured in those timeless words. He instructed others not to ask, “What my community can do for me;” but instead, “What can I do for my neighbor?”
Despite his success, Rather made sure to remind everyone of his humble beginnings. Born and raised his Texas, he talked fondly of his days traveling to the local library to read books. From his humble tone, one wonders if there is a part of him that remains surprised by the ways in which the details of his life have unfolded. “I am just a lucky reporter, a very lucky reporter,” he said. Not long after, Rather was back up, exiting the stage while waving to an enthusiastic crowd, off to engage Americans in his imperfect quest for unity.
Samuel Moore-Sobel is a freelance writer. To read his most recent blog post, please visit www.holdingontohopetoday.com