June 14, 2008
The whole country is trying to make sense of it. He was so vital, so authentic, so much a part of us that it is like a really bad dream every time we try to come to grips with the untimely death of this most American of characters, Tim Russert.
Russert has been a fixture of the television talk show scene for years, yet he seemed so young, with his transcendant enthusiasm for his work. You could tell he was having fun, every day, that he had a good life; that he was doing what he should be doing. Even with his fame, he seemed like someone you would know in your own life. He could ask the tough questions without ever seeming churlish; he could warm and disarm the person he was confronting; he made an admirable surrogate for all of us when he took on the pompous, the self-important, the phony. There was a brilliant mind there, no doubt, but there was also the genial good nature that we come to think of as uniquely American -- that ready laugh, that unforced, natural and contagious joy in his pursuit of the truth of politics. He was like one of the family, every family.
I've heard a lot of people talking about him in the last hours. Everyone mentions how great his love for his own family was, and everyone with little children mentions how much their own children loved him. I cannot doubt this. He was the kind of grownup that little kids love, because of his own innocence and that sunny optimism that made him seem like a child too.
He was from a working-class, urban, Catholic family, and he was well aware of this and grateful for it every minute of his life. It's not my tribe, but there are times when I and the rest who stand outside and observe cannot help but envy. He seemed to be one of the happiest of people. He seemed to be the best our country had to offer. His legacy is being discussed, and someone used the word "crater" to describe the void in the television news world will have to fill now that he is gone.
But his legacy exceeds that of the world of television political news in which he toiled. It includes something in the heart of every American -- pride of country, hope for its future, and the responsibility to be the best at what one does in order to make things better for others. It is that happy, hopeful, outgoing, generous, honest spirit that makes us proud to be in the country that produced him.