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A Living Hero

From the Scrapbook

Sep 20, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 01 • By SCRAPBOOK
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Speaking of the usual suspects, since the Kennedy Center Honors are bestowed by an agency of the federal government, the five honorees are always suitably balanced for Race, Sex, Popular Appeal, and Quality of Achievement. A survey of the choices during the last decade shows there is always one, but never more than two, African Americans (Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Morgan Freeman, Smokey Robinson); somebody from the movies (Robert Redford, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Warren Beatty); a rock ’n’ roll/country favorite (George Jones, Brian Wilson, Loretta Lynn, Bruce Springsteen, Sir Elton John); and one representative of Dance (Suzanne Farrell, Twyla Tharp, Mikhail Baryshnikov) or Classical Music (Grace Bumbry, Leon Fleisher, Zubin Mehta, Joan Sutherland). If you’re the gambling type, you can make some easy money guessing each year’s all-too-predictable quintet.

This year there is some slight controversy because talk show queen Oprah Winfrey is one of the Kennedy Center honorees, and Oprah’s connection to the arts/performance world is, at best, tenuous. Defenders of the choice point out that Johnny Carson was an honoree one year—can Jay Leno/David Letterman be far behind?—and, frankly, The Scrapbook cherishes its memories of Oprah’s hamfisted performance as neighborhood matriarch Mattie Michael in the made-for-TV movie The Women of Brewster Place (1989). That’s good enough for us. This year’s other honorees are drawn from Central Casting: Merle Haggard, Jerry Herman, Bill T. Jones, and Sir Paul McCartney.

In The Scrapbook’s opinion, Sir Paul is this year’s dubious choice. We say this partly for artistic reasons—doesn’t everyone agree that “Yesterday” is especially cringe-inducing?—but out of a sense of propriety as well. As recently as this past July, Sir Paul was honored with yet another taxpayer-underwritten decoration—​the Library of Congress’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Music—and at the inevitable PBS-televised concert at the White House made the graceful concluding remark that “after the last eight years it’s great to have a president who knows what a library is.” 

So we are now faced with the prospect of American taxpayers financing a night of civic worship for an over-the-hill British rock ’n’ roller who comes to these shores to accept gratuitous praise and insult the twice-elected president of the United States.

On the other hand, things could be worse. It’s the British government, after all, and not our own, that conferred a knighthood on Sir Paul. All we are doing is making a big deal out of a musical mediocrity who hasn’t written a memorable tune in 40 years. We can be thankful, too, that we don’t confer titles in our republican system, otherwise next year’s Kennedy Center Honors might feature Dame Whoopi Goldberg or Sir Michael Moore.

The Great Stimulator

During last Friday’s press conference, CBS’s Chip Reid told the president that “we can’t get people in the White House to say [it’s latest economic package] is a stimulus—$50 billion for roads and other infrastructure, but they avoid the word ‘stimulus’ like the plague.” Wondered Reid, “Is that because the original stimulus is so deeply unpopular?”

Of course we know the answer is yes​—precisely because not once during the press conference did the president utter the word “stimulus.” “Economic plan,” “small business bill,” and “economic proposals” were all bandied about by the commander in chief, but not the “s” word. So when the president concluded his lengthy answer by explaining the many ways the economy would be boosted by his administration’s actions, Reid pressed him: “So this is a second stimulus?”

The president laughed, and then elaborated: “Here’s how I would—there is no doubt that everything we’ve been trying to do—everything we’ve been trying to do is designed to stimulate growth and additional jobs in the economy. I mean, that’s our entire agenda. So I have no problem with people saying the president is trying to stimulate growth and hiring. Isn’t that what I should be doing? I would assume that’s what the Republicans think we should do, to stimulate growth and jobs. And I will keep on trying to stimulate growth and jobs for as long as I’m president of the United States.”

Impressively, the president did not slip once and say “stimulus” while explaining in a stimulating way that his job is to stimulate—and maintain stimulation—of the economy.


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