Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tim Russert, American

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.


Anonymous said...

Perfectly put... and who can possibly replace him?

Mary Lois said...

I'm sure the suits at NBC are thrashing that one out this very minute. They'll put someone in at Meet the Press, and the usual suspects will be tried out at that post until they stop the rotation. I don't see anybody of his stature on the horizon, though, and think it will take many years before someone can make that desk his (or her) own. I suspect it will be someone we don't know of now...and that there will be a long wait.

Daniel Spiro said...

Yeah, he's not part of my "tribe" either, but the beauty of a guy like Russert is that he didn't appear to elevate his tribe above any other.

What I don't understand is how he put up with some of the racist, close-minded, thoroughly biased fellow guests on the Morning Joe show (not to mention Scarborough himself). Russert was always a breath of fresh air on that program.

In any event, as you know, I did my own tribute on my blog this morning. I'm wondering just what percentage of political bloggers felt the need to devote a blog this morning to the membory of Tim Russert. He was truly a national treasure and I'd hate to be the man or woman who's asked to fill his shoes. But I get a sneaking suspicion that NBC will find someone that will come as close as possible to the spirit as Russert. At least that's my hope. We'll see soon enough.

Anonymous said...

"The whole country is trying to make sense of it.".

Well, not the whole country. I, at least, have a perfect understanding of his passing, and I'm surprised more don't share it. Here's a man who made a handsome living following his passion. He loved his job and his family avidly and deliberately. He spent his last days with his family, sans any forecast of finality. What a luxury. He passed on immediately while doing what he loved. No villain, no tragedy, no undignified reduction of passion or power. He went out like God's Own Hero, an undramatic and sudden exit, scooping up life with both hands one moment and dead the next. He passed as angels pass. Well done, sir!

Mary Lois said...

Mellow --

Russert's protegé David Gregory, obviously dealing with his own grief, related that a priest had used the phrase, "God took him home," in addressing Russert's assembled colleagues at NBC. Gregory's response was, "I could grasp that, but what none of us could believe was that he'd leave work early."