Every newspaper editor stands in the shadow of those who came before. In my case, I was frequently reminded of just how much I fell short of the reputation of the man who for many years had run, and editorialized for, the newspaper that I worked for through the 1990s.
While many of us editorialists are, or want to be, known for their crusades, their calls for change, reform and improvement, this editor was fondly remembered by many for the time he sagely advised his friends and neighbors to just calm down, accept the inevitable and turn trouble into opportunity.
The issue wasn’t as emotional as Utah’s current kerfuffle over same-sex marriage. It was worse.
The Pentagon announced that Schilling Air Force Base would be closed. And, as with any military facility of any size, the result would obviously be an economic blow to the nearby community of Salina, Kan. The city government and chamber of commerce were mobilized to speak out, write their congressman, even send official deputations to Washington, to get Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (that’s how long ago it was) to reverse his decision.
So, after much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, the town leaders finally took their Salina Journal Editor Whitley Austin’s advice and ended their futile crusade to keep their federal sugar daddy in place. Instead, they turned to seizing the opportunity to turn the facility, with its office buildings, housing facilities, large hangers and B-52 capable runway, into an industrial park, technical college, municipal airport, pilot training facility and, as long as that program was running, emergency space shuttle landing strip.
It never did, and never will, become as much of an economic engine as the air base was. And, all these years later, the whole place is still troubled by the fuels and other chemicals that the Air Force left behind in the soils and water.
But it was an example of what reasonable people do when something they have known, grown comfortable with, even profited from, their whole lives suddenly goes away.
And, speaking of Robert McNamara, his era provides another example of how to handle a difficult situation, fraught with emotion and liable to blow up in everyone’s face.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when the world really was on the verge of ending, President John Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, skillfully finessed an explosive situation by totally ignoring a bellicose official cable from the government of the Soviet Union and responding instead to a more conciliatory personal note from Premier Nikita Khrushchev. That led to the face-saving, and world-saving, arrangement that pulled the Soviet missiles out of Cuba and (please don’t tell anyone it was a deal) the American missiles out of Turkey.
Elements of that wisdom have surfaced in the last few days in Utah.
After a George Wallace-style condemnation of the federal judge’s ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in the state, Gov. Gary Herbert has joined new Attorney General Sean Reyes in calmly advising state and local agencies to comply with the decision, as it is, for the time being at least, the law of the land.
Marriage licenses are selling like hotcakes. So are wedding rings, floral arrangements and boxes of rice. Same-sex spouses of public employees are signing up for the state’s health insurance plan. Pundits who decried "judicial tyranny" on Friday were appealing to Utah’s "culture of civility" by Tuesday.
Reyes is still appealing the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is his job, and spending taxpayers’ money on outside counsel, which is too bad. Unless, as wise attorneys, and newspaper editors, often do, that outside counsel counsels a principled, dignified, and potentially profitable, acquiescence to reality.
George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, counsels those who have the opportunity to attend any same-sex wedding to which they are invited. The food’s usually great.
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