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Dan Rather: What it Means to Love America

After decades as a CBS field reporter, Dan Rather took over the CBS Evening News anchor desk in 1981 from Walter Cronkite, “The most trusted man in America.”  Rather held that post with CBS News for 24 years. During his storied career spanning over 60 years, Rather has reported on nearly every headline event.  Now at 86, Rather offers news analysis and commentary on social media. I talked with the legendary newsman about his new book.  

Scott Ross: Six decades.  That's-that's a long time, Doctor.

Dan Rather: That's a long time, but I've been uh very lucky and mightily blessed, Scott.

SR: I put down here you are a chronicler of the times. And the times keep changing, but you're keeping up with it.  That's the interesting thing.

DR: I've seen my role through life as trying to be an honest broker of information.

SR: You're all over Facebook. I was thinking the other day, you're sort of a Patriarch to the baby-boomers, the millennials –and here you sit.

DR: Well, it’s true. One this is proof positive that miracles still happen. And the second is I have no idea why this happened, but I’m very grateful for it.  If there's any reason for whatever success I've had on social media, Facebook and Our News and Guts.com news place, I think it's because that this is a tumultuous time.  And there are many young people who are afraid. What I have to offer, about the only thing I have to offer, is "Yes, I've lived a fair – fairly long time, I have some experience, and I do try to put things into historical context and perspective when I can, and to be a steady, reliable voice."  That's what I’m trying to do.

In our deeply polarized times, Rather recently penned, What Unites Us.  The book is a series of reflective essays on the values that have shaped our national character.  Rather’s views challenge readers on the left, right, and center of the political spectrum, but perhaps too, as I found, there’s some common ground.

SR: You hooked me from Chapter 1, what motivated you to write it?

DR: They’re so many people talking about what divides us in the country. And within me, deep somewhere in my id, is such a strong belief that what unites us and things that unite us are much more plentiful and much more important than the things that divide us. It’s not that we don’t have problems, we have problems, and we have differences of opinions, but there are certain core values of the country that have been our values ever since the founding of the…

SR: This was a strong statement on your part:  "Humility.  If we lose that, we risk losing everything."

DR: Absolutely. Because humility is at the very core of patriotism.  It's one of those things that separate patriotism from nationalism.  Having said this, some overlap.  But the spirit of patriotism is "I love my country and – to the point that I'm literally prepared to die for my country; but I recognize that my country needs to improve here—we can all improve." So humility is the core of patriotism where nationalism tends to be breast-beating "We're the greatest that's ever been,”

SR: Triumphalism.

DR: Right, and there are dangers in nationalism and I won’t give you my full blast on that, but I think it is so important right now.

SR: It seems to me to be rooted in pride in many ways.

DR: It is.

SR: The wrong kind of Pride. Another one of your topics "Service."  If-if service could almost be an antidote to pride.

DR: There's-there's a great and possibly decisive battle going on in the country for the soul of the country.  And I’m not talking about by some political ideology.  What I’m talking about – our soul has always been closely identified with service, service to others, service to the community, service to country.

SR: Right.

DR: This Is what has made us the United States of America. I personally believe in mandatory uh national service of some kind. 

SR: Uh-huh.

DR: I think it ought to include the military but not be limited to that.

SR: Right.

DR: Teach school in a poor neighborhood, or go overseas with the Peace Corps or something like that.  But this idea of service, as I say, it's gone a little out of fashion.  And I think we should be worried about that. 

SR: That's an interesting prospect, now here's a charged word.  We should na – neither forget nor be paralyzed by our prior national sins, sins!  You don't hear that word anymore. Why did you choose to use that.

DR: Well, first of all you’re right. It's gone a little out of fashion to talk about.

SR: Yeah.

DR: Because it's a strong word and it's applicable uh that we had uh the sin of slavery.

SR:  Right.

DR: And it took us a long time to overcome that and we're still in the process of doing penance, if you will, for the time of slavery.  But yes, we have – we have nationally, as a country, as a society, committed sins.  But at least you and I, as Christians, believe in redemption.

SR: That's right.  And repentance was a word I wrote down because I know many people who've repented of those historic sins of this nation. (Do) you think you book is going to sell in mid America between the two coasts?

DR: Well, I’m happy to say I have enough evidence it has. It’s funny with a book. You right it and put it out there. It’s in the arena; you have no idea what it is going to do.  I’d love to hear from anybody who reads it.

SR: I read this last night, it's a Proverb from the Book of Ecclesiastes describes you, "How wonderful to be wise to analyze and interpret things."

DR: Well, I appreciate that.  I'm unworthy of that, but as the saying goes "From your mouth to God's ear" that I could become that.

SR: Thank you so much.

DR: Thank you, Scott.  Thank you very much.  I really appreciate it.

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