Saturday, June 14, 2008

Farewell, Tim

When Jason came home from work and told me what he'd heard on the radio, I felt like we'd lost a member of the family.

Yesterday Tim Russert, he of Meet the Press and 2000-election-whiteboard fame, passed away suddenly from a heart attack.

My parents were never church-goers; their Sunday-morning ritual for years was to sip coffee while watching Meet the Press. Of course, that was pre-Russert. When I was a kid, I knew to go play by myself for that hour every week and to be seen and not heard. I was usually rewarded with a big country breakfast of biscuits and gravy and political conversation when it was over, which I liked even as a kid. Especially when my dad got fired up.

The last few years, on Sundays when I talk myself out of going to church and decide to be lazy instead, Jason and I adopt my parents' ritual. He makes coffee, I throw together something unhealthy for breakfast, and we tune in to Tim Russert. Just like my dad, I start my own lively political commentary during commercials, but unlike him, I leave out the expletives in front of little ears, so Ains is not quite as amused as I used to be.

With this unprecedented primary, I found myself (sorry, God) skipping church much more often just to hear what Tim had to say or who he was going to have on. As he politely but unrelentingly grilled various candidates and campaign leaders, I found myself forming a lot of the opinions I will and have exercised with my vote. People I previously respected showed themselves to be massive tools under his questioning, and people from the other side of the aisle I thought I would never agree with actually had me shaking my head in agreement. Tim Russert had a way of not letting people off the hook; under his fire, they either made intelligent arguments about the contradictions and media misfires, or they hanged themselves with the ample rope he gave. Either way, he looked like he was having a ball, and he was never cruel or opinionated himself, and that made it fun.

The first years of our marriage, Jason and I weren't terribly interested in politics. It was also a scary subject for me; Jason is not a registered member of the party of my own choosing (though I must say that I think I have brought him to to dark side.) But then came the 2000 election, and while I was struggling to make sense of the fact that when I had gone to bed that Tuesday night I thought Al Gore was our next President, only to have Jason wake me up a few hours later to say it was Bush, and then hear on the radio the next morning that it was kind of a tie involving hanging chads and recounts, I flipped through the 24-hour news channels to stumble across Tim Russert and his whiteboard and child-like glee. A $5 whiteboard made more sense to us than the fancy graphics and maps of blue and red. From then on, I chose MSNBC and Tim Russert anytime something interesting happened in the world of politics that I needed to know more about.

And now he's gone.
I didn't know him personally, but we welcomed him into our homes every Sunday morning (and many a Tuesday night during this primary season.) There's a hole there that will never be filled. He was a special man. Class, intelligence, sincerity, humor, a thirst for truth, and genuine enthusiasm: who else in broadcast journalism matches up?
My condolences go out to his family and his wide circle of friends.
If tomorrow morning is going to be hard for us, as strangers who merely watched his show, I can't imagine what the coming years will be like for his friends, family, and colleagues.

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