Vandenberg documentary provides clarity and direction

December 11, 2011
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The insanity continues. Donald Trump wants to convene a debate between GOP presidential hopefuls, and that, in fact, is receiving more comment than yet another blockade of decisive leadership between President Obama and Republicans over extension of the payroll tax holiday. At week’s end the Republican legislators were determined they should attach the extension legislation to fast track a controversial pipeline construction between northwest Canada, through the Midwest, to Gulf of Mexico refineries.

Amidst all the “it’s about me” vacuous political moments, local PBS affiliate WGVU-GVK aired a new documentary Dec. 7, which seemed like a summer breeze wafting through a room of stinking, smoke-filled fog. And it happens that it was born in Grand Rapids.

Meijer Inc. Co-chairman and CEO Hank Meijer, who also is regarded in professional circles as a historian, will shortly debut the achievement of a definitive book regarding the life of former U.S. Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, R-Grand Rapids. Meijer’s passion for history and writing are no secret, and his acumen as a biographer is stellar. So, too, is the PBS documentary “America’s Senator — The Unexpected Odyssey of Arthur Vandenberg,” expanding on portions of the book and crediting Meijer as executive producer. The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and Grand Valley State University Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies have assisted in preparing the documentary narrated by National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” host Susan Stamberg.

The book will be released later this month, but the documentary currently airing (also showing at Grand Rapids Public Library Dec. 12) certainly provides clarity and direction in this time that impeaches the American political process and ability.

Meijer’s initial curiosity about the senator became an engrossing journey of more than a decade to define (and inform a new generation of) Vandenberg’s world-wide recognition and respect. Vandenberg helped create the isolationist movement and solidly defended it, until his “speech heard around world,” detailing his reasons and new information to abandon such policy — principally, the attack on Pearl Harbor. Vandenberg helped establish the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., worked to modify the most controversial elements of the New Deal, championed legislation that was a precursor to the United Nations, and was long-time chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The senator from Grand Rapids was a mentor to President Gerald R. Ford and is said to have been the person Ford most wanted to emulate — and likely did.

Even given the momentous occurrences and issues of his time, Vandenberg is best remembered as the person to have created political bipartisanship, heralded thusly as having “symbolized the finest moment is America politics” and one emulated by countries around the world.

It is surely time to bring it home.

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