In the course of about two months, we will have lost two of our most comforting public figures: Gwen Iffill, who died on November 14, and Barack Obama, who leaves office on January 20.
Calling them comforting may seem almost condescending, as if they were cuddly puppies or down-filled blankets on a cold morning. They are much, much more (I refuse to use the past tense). But comforting does sum up both their personal warmth (Gwen, a little more than Barack) and the thoughtfulness, fairness, and integrity — call it character — that clothes a core of burnished steel.
We sometimes call our President our Comforter-in-Chief, and Barack has too often had to reassure us that the sun will rise tomorrow.
It is not quite so apparent that a journalist might fill that role, but Walter Cronkite, a stern but kindly uncle, did it after the Kennedy assassination. Gwen has done it, under less fraught circumstances, more like a loving parent, letting us know that, as bad as the news may be, it is not the end of the world.
One should never fall in love with one’s newscaster. I stepped across that particular boundary long ago. What could I do? That beautiful face, that glorious, toothsome smile, that laugh.
There is less danger that one will fall in love with one’s President. He (She, next time!) has to be as enigmatic as open. There are secrets to be guarded, interests to be manipulated, players to be orchestrated.
Gwen, the mother; Barack, the father.
The days and months ahead will see changes in policy and changes in the substance and style of the media, but, as always, we and our ship of state will be slow to turn. Each of us will have some victories and some defeats. More jarring, but no less important, will be the personal effect of changes in attitude, style, personality, and, deeper still, spirit, values, and character.
We may long for the likes of these two, who have embodied goodness and given solace. If we are in despair, at least we will have the comfort of knowing that such people are possible.