The aim of The 1966 Game is to have fun tracking the similarities between our time and the last period where a Political Thesis (in that case the New Deal thesis of Franklin D. Roosevelt) exceeded its reach.
Mostly, we have been playing with politicians, but last week, I gave you something else to ponder, an entertainer. Bob Hope.
Let’s set the scene. In 1966 Hope was 62. (He died in 2004 at nearly 100.) He had been unaffected by the crisis which created the New Deal era. As an entertainer he made a smooth transition from vaudeville to radio and movies. He didn’t suffer as the country did.
Hope was among the great stars of World War II, those USO troopers who went around the world, went right up to the cannon’s mouth, in order to entertain the troops. But unlike his contemporaries, like Marlene Dietrich, Hope kept right at it. He went out during Korea, and he went out again during Vietnam.
This put him squarely on the political line. As opposition to the war grew, Hope was pushed toward the new Thesis, the Nixon Thesis of conflict. The Thesis that now has reached its own excess, a time it cannot explain, nor hope to deal with.
On a personal note, Hope was a great man. In 1966 he actually connected with what would become my family. The man who would become my father-in-law had to build a new elementary school in San Antonio. Being a Great Man himself, he asked the kids what to name it. Hope, they said. So he called Bob Hope. And called. And called. He needed a commitment of time to schedule the ceremony. Finally (and here my father-in-law can’t contain his joy over the memory) he called and said, "If I don’t get a commitment today I’ll name the school for Bing Crosby."
Five minutes later, the phone rang. "This is Bob "don’t name it after Crosby" Hope." The school did take his name, and he later called it among the proudest moments of his life. He hadn’t graduated elementary school, you see.
Anyway, who’s Bob Hope now?
Like Hope, Keillor became a beloved entertainer while essentially ignoring politics. He worked in nostalgia, pretending that I Love Lucy had never happened, and that Hope’s great era of glory, the 1930s and 1940s, was still on.
Gradually, of course, Keillor has become a political figure. For a long time (like Hope) he tried to laugh it off. While admitting to a preference for Al Gore over George Bush, he still made funny Gore jokes. And he made funny Kerry jokes.
But now the crisis has gotten serious, and Keillor has felt himself forced to take sides. He has chosen the side of his fathers, the Democratic side.
But his is not the Washington party, the party of authority, the party of Johnson. His is the little guy’s party, the farmer’s party, the laborer’s party. I believe that when we look on this era we’ll say he has chosen the open source party.
And that he was right to do so.
Having fun yet? Me, too. Want to keep playing?
Let me know.