Outside View: This was the week that was (TW3)

By HARLAN ULLMAN, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  June 13, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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LONDON, June 13 (UPI) -- This past week celebrated Queen Elizabeth II's Jubilee of 60 years on the throne. By any assessment, the celebration was a brilliant success.

Despite frightful English weather with blustery and chilly rain showers, millions turned out to cheer the queen. The worries of a flagging economy, unemployment, the euro crisis and what that might mean for recovery and the war in Afghanistan were, for the moment, placed on hold.

Contrast the jubilant mood in the United Kingdom with that across the Atlantic. The U.S. presidential election again dominated the news coverage for last week. It was, to borrow from Charles Dickens, "the best (if not fleeting) of times" for Republican contender Mitt Romney. And it was "the worst of times" for U.S. President Barack Obama, bearing in mind media hype to portray the future as seen through the most transitory of lenses that oscillates more frequently than the 24-hour news cycle.

Romney raised far more money than Obama during the week that was. The recall election of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was reported as a decisive victory for Republicans and a harbinger of bad things to come for Democrats in November and labor union influence who failed to collect Walker's political scalp.

Obama's statement that "the private sector is doing just fine," quickly retracted, gave the former Massachusetts's governor an exquisite opening to use the charge about him "being out of touch" with the U.S. public levied by his Republican opponents during the primaries against the White House.

Politics, sometimes being a zero sum game, made Romney's gains, Obama's losses. The best that could be said for the president was that this horrendous week occurred in June and not closer to election, meaning there was ample time left to recover.

That it is absurd to abstract permanent consequences from such a temporal moment is a further reflection of the state of American politics and society and obsessive focus on the immediate. But how to put this in perspective and cast good news stories against bad ones isn't a trivial question.

In 1962, a hit BBC television show made its way across the Atlantic where it was widely watched until 1964 when it folded. "This Was the Week That Was" -- aka "TW3" -- was powerful comedy and satire featuring among others, David Frost.

The show opened with the tune "This was the week that was; it's over, let it go …" and lampooned politicians from British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Other targets were Britain's declining status as a world power; racism particularly in the American south and South African apartheid; social hypocrisy; Britain's class system and offered a satirical "consumer's guide to religion," all of which would be considered highly politically incorrect today.

What we need today is an updated version of "TW3" to level the media playing fields and bring some humor to an otherwise depressing venue of bad news. Recall for a minute the days of yesteryear and 1962. In that October, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the United States and its allies nose to nose with the Soviet Union. How close the world came to thermonuclear war can be debated. But, when compared to other traumatic events such as Sept. 11, 2001, and the Twin Tower attacks by al-Qaida, the missile crisis put the existence of hundreds of millions of souls at risk.

Before "TW3" would go off the air, Kennedy would be assassinated and the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964 would lock the United States in a tragic crusade in South Asia. Those were indeed trying times in which, by the way, economic dislocation was a genie that had long escaped from its containing bottle.

Against this gloom, events such as the queen's Jubilee are powerful if not permanent medication for what ills us. The festivities were not an inoculation with lasting effect. However, even an occasional painkiller can be helpful.

The question is what broader analgesic may be present at a time when there is little to be optimistic about. From Algeria to Zaire with Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in between, the news isn't heartening. And from Athens to Madrid and the Frankfurt Stock Exchange to Wall Street, financial markets are in disarray.

A new "TW3" may not be the answer. But the ability to take ourselves collectively less seriously may be.

How Obama or Romney may be doing week by week is of little lasting value. Nor is the queen's Jubilee. However, the latter was a time and place to rally a nation, something that is too lacking elsewhere and is sorely needed. If Messers Obama and Romney are serious about governing, this is a great opportunity for some creative thinking.


(Harlan Ullman is chairman of the Killowen Group, which advises leaders of government and business, and senior adviser at Washington's Atlantic Council.)


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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