I was amazed at the number of observers, both professional and amateur, who were certain the San Francisco 49ers would win the Super Bowl.
I was an agnostic, as I usually am about the stock market, elections and most sporting events. I admit, when it comes to politics, I can get worked up and learn to really dislike certain officials. But, if you’re a regular reader of this and other newspapers, you’ll notice that most of us who have the privilege of writing a column use shades of gray to express their opinions. When I first was given the privilege of writing for the Daily Republic, I often used anger that, when I read some of these columns years later, embarrassed me.
Don’t get me wrong. Over the years there have been some very tempting targets for rude commentary. I’m talking about right here in Fairfield. That seems to have changed for the better in recent years. In terms of the national picture, yes, I get very aggravated by the tax increases that are driven by President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats. I also think that the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense was an insult to the men and women in uniform and – perhaps – a danger to our ability to defend our interests.
As for John Kerry as secretary of state, here we have a man who, during the Vietnam war, used every insult he could think of to describe our efforts. He was more outraged, not by the death and injuries to American troops, but to the alleged atrocities our men were committing. He seemed to be describing our officers and NCOs as if they were all Lieutenant Calleys.
Perhaps the worst “history” for which no language would be inappropriate were the sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose comments about this country were vicious and despicable. In which case, President Obama’s response was to say that in 20 years of attending Wright’s church, he never heard insults like these. Yes, I would like to write what I thought of Obama when he claimed he was unaware of Wright’s insults. But there was worse.
Sean Hannity aired actual speeches that Obama made before he became a candidate for president, or perhaps senator from Illinois. There were portions of several appearances in front of black audiences, and the word “racism” doesn’t do them justice. Some of his comments were like a black version of the Ku Klux Klan. A columnist could feed off some of Obama’s early speeches for months, but an editor would probably not find them appropriate or timely.
There is another reason to self-censor your work. If readers expect the same kind of criticism and insults week after week, they probably fall away from your readership. I remember during the Clinton-Lewinsky episodes, I couldn’t resist writing about those characters every week. It was former editor Bill Buchanan who suggested that I vary my topics from week to week because, otherwise, I would become boringly predictable.
Let me tell you, it was tough ignoring the Clintons’ escapades and “untruths” even for one week. That’s probably how columnists writing in the 1970s felt about Richard Nixon and Watergate.
I think the mistake some of us make is believing that the more vicious we are, the more readers will enjoy reading our column. Not so. I would guess that readers are more intrigued by surprises than predictable opinions. I hope you’ll forgive me for offering my thoughts that have been distilled from 30 years of having the privilege to write for the Daily Republic.
If you’d like the numbers, that’s usually two columns a week times 52 weeks times 30 years comes, for more than 3,000 columns – each one a journalistic masterpiece, and each written by a modest citizen.
And, more seriously, thank you all for reading them over the years.
Bud Stevenson, a stockbroker, lives in Fairfield. Reach him at [email protected]