Thursday, March 25, 2010

Diane Rehm: Here's to a national treasure

DIANE REHM'S lecture in E. J. Thomas Hall Wednesday night was an extraordinary example of how a leading radio talk show hostess can also be rational in surveying a nation deeply at odds with itself. We don't witness much of that kind of intelligent professional behavior from the Limbaughs and Becks, but Rehm more than accounts for the sane side of competing commentary, claiming 2.1 million National Public Radio listeners for her daily shows (WCPN in Cleveland - try it, you'll like it.)

She has a unique style, liberally mixing self-deprecating anecdotes about personal life - 14 years at home as a mother of two kids with no thoughts of achievement beyond that - and 30 years at the radio mike, a presence that is always persuasive in making her points. She looks at the world with the same questions that many of us share in a how-can-this-be? tone of voice. At 74, she has perfected that one-on-one delivery to her audience and leaves one with the feeling that she cares about her country without flags and slogans. On this night, she left no doubts about the matters that trouble her and the nation.

Mandated health insurance under the new health care reform act? But, she asks, don't we buy insurance for our cars and for other facets of our existence? Taxes? "We've got to pay for the things that we want, and we want an awful lot of things."

She is distressed by children who can't read or write and argues for greater attention to fixing the education system. She worries about how easily Americans can be lost in the maze of events that is shaping our lives. Her advice: Don't rely on a single newspaper or magazine or broadcast voice. Make an effort to read and listen to as many sources as possible because 'you need have your facts lined up. "Are we sure we know what we know?"

And she is pessimistic about the current atmosphere in which "everything is so divided around the country." Later she went on to lament about what she has been seeing of late: "Racism is alive and well in America."

But it was always stylishly presented as conversationally as though she was raising her concerns to a neighbor over the back fence. This is quite an exception in the national free-for-all. And for 90 minutes , I was in a comfort zone knowing that a caring, highly intelligent, civilized human being who happens to be a radio talk show host as well as woman who knows a thing or two about home life, was looking after the huge problems that beset us in a way that so compelled our attention.

Diane, you are a national treasure.

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