Friday, June 17, 2005

Greatest American Sham

"You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time." Abraham Lincoln

Okay, I've kept my mouth shut about the Discovery Channel's Greatest American feature long enough. It seemed like a good idea in principle. We need heroes. We need them in all shapes, colors and religions. Historic and contemporary. Inventors, achievers, activists, leaders. Men and women willing to work hard, give back, stand up and be counted.

But this particular countdown is a sham. It's an insult to our collective intelligence and to our country's diverse heritage. This could have been, should have been a unique interactive learning exercise, especially for America's children -- woefully uninformed about most of our country's true heroes. And apparently, based on the choices made here, their parents could use some serious educating too.

According to AOL, millions of Americans logged on to nominate the first 100. Now they've pared the list down to the Top 25, and I have to say officially: Are you freakin kidding me? Frankly, I'm embarrassed to be on the same planet with people who've chosen such a bizarre mix of finalists, from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Something's very wrong with America and American values when Oprah Winfrey is included on the same list with Eleanor Roosevelt and Helen Keller. Who would consider Walt Disney or even Muhammad Ali in the same league with Martin Luther King, Jr.? And though of course they were significant players on the national stage, what are Elvis Presley and Bob Hope even doing on the same list as Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison? And don't get me started on Ronald Reagan.

Neil Armstrong, okay, a genuine hero. Even Lance Armstrong has some merit as a contender. But how did Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Jackson or Mel Gibson make it onto the
Top 100 Greatest Americans list, for cripes sake? A Nazi, a pedophile and an anti-Semite -- just makes you proud to be an American, doesn't it? Not to mention Rush Limbaugh, Richard Nixon, BARBARA and LAURA BUSH?? And somebody tell me, what in God's name makes Madonna, Martha Stewart and Tom Cruise worthy of any title at all, much less Great American?

The Discovery channel didn't set any genuine criteria for this list. They just asked America, via AOL: Who are the individuals who have made (and continue to make) this country great? Who is the person who has most embodied the American dream, having the biggest impact on the way we think, work and live.

If it's at all focused on contribution and lasting impact, I say the field narrows to a half dozen: Dr. King, FDR, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin. There are arguably others worthy of inclusion: George Washington. Henry Ford. Rosa Parks. Even Billy Graham. But Walt Disney? George W. Bush? Think of it this way: could we live without Mickey Mouse? Sadly, yes. Could we live without a lying, cheating, self-righteous bully who's gotten thousands of Americans-and foreign allies-killed? Most definitely.

Discovery and AOL have chosen Father's Day to broadcast the final "winner." Adding insult to injury, if you ask me. Among all the
comments on AOL praising Oprah and Limbaugh and George W. Bush, I'm happy to say there are quite a few in line with my own thoughts. Two examples give me hope that some of us still value dignity and respect above craven celebrity:

"I started with Benjamin Franklin, and then remembered Abraham Lincoln, but also thought of Franklin D. Roosevelt. I then thought of my father, since he is a WWII Veteran, one of many who unselfishly stormed the beaches in Normandy (Utah Beach on D-Day). Then I realiized, how can I name just one person. You see, that's what makes America great!" NRobsNY

"[I] think all people who work hard, love their families and friends and do the very best they can are the greatest Americans we have." Ghuff74

Forget the Discovery Channel. These are people who know what a Great American should be.



Blogger David Goldenberg said...

I enjoy your blog, Sally. I must quibble with you on a coupla things--Henry Ford was a bigger anti-Semite than Mel ever could conjure. G. Washington is in fact the greatest American because without him, there would be no America. I'm a big fan of John Adamas and Franklin, kinda circumspect about Jefferson, and FDR, Keller, Martin Luther King etc all fill the bill. But it's a given without GW, we have no America to do this contest about. It's that simple.
BTW--King's in a class above the rest and by himself.
Cheers and keep us guessing!

9:00 PM  
Blogger Sally Swift said...

Thanks for your intelligent feedback as always, David. To answer your point about Ford, I wasn't counting anti-Semites in order to disqualify them, it had more to do with the blatant lack of quality and worthiness of those particular nominees across the board.

There are other anti-Semites on the list as I'm sure you know. At least Ford's accomplishments were worth something to America, even if his value system was deplorable.

11:43 PM  

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