Wednesday, January 2, 2008

January 1, 2008

Bob Herbert reminds us in today's New York Times that 1968 was forty years ago, now that we're in '08, and we haven't really gotten over it yet.

'68 started with an unpopular president, Lyndon Johnson, waging an unpopular war in Vietnam. A relatively unknown senator, Eugene McCarthy, ran against Johnson in the New Hampshire primary. Kids flooded the state for him; "neat and clean for Gene" was the slogan; and he got 42% of the vote. Johnson withdrew, though an aide told me years later that some time after making his withdrawal announcement, Johnson did consider rigging a draft. He decided not to.

Robert Kennedy ran and seemed to spark hope among all kinds of Americans. And then Martin Luther King was murdered and American cities burned. Kennedy broke the news to a mostly black crowd in Indianapolis and said in a moving and almost incoherent speech, "I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times." And then he was killed and a great many Americans who thought they could change the world decided that no, they couldn't.

And here we still are. What we need, I think, is a president who again wants to change the world. This administration has cheapened the United States, lowered its standards, dirtied its image around the world. This administration claims the right to use torture, the right to imprison people it doesn't like indefinitely without letting them know what they're accused of or what, if any, evidence there is against them. It has held prisoners secretly in foreign countries. It has claimed the right to tap our telephones and read our mail without court orders. It has claimed the right to start wars, though the Constitution says Congress is supposed to do that. And so on and so on. It's a long list.

I hope the next president, whoever he or she may be, goes back to the older America, the one the men who wrote the Constitution had in mind, a limited government, a president with limited powers, not a king, a government of laws and not of men. We need a leader like that; I hope we get one.

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