Oct. 19, 2009
I've been on travel the past week, visiting with college administrators, staff, and students. I'm often asked by concerned young people: "Has it ever been this bad before?"
Oh, my yes. When I was your age, I tell them, 300 American cities went up in flames after Dr. King was assassinated, riots in the streets turned huge areas of America's cities into no-go zones. Bob Kennedy was assassinated en route to a likely presidential nomination. Three hundred young Americans were dying in Vietnam every week, with no strategy for victory and no end in sight. Inflation was rampant and few Americans could see our country healing after such terrible divisions.
But heal she did. Last week, I witnessed American troops coming home from Iraq in two of our major airports. Welcoming committees cheered them wildly. What a great improvement on the sullen indifference that greeted too many of our returning Vietnam vets. One of my pool pals--guys I swim with every morning--was one of those Vietnam vets who came home to no welcome. Today, he joins the welcomers in applauding our magnificent troops. God bless you, Bob Hogan!
Even worse than that "annus horribilis" of 1968 was Washington in 1861. A book by Ernest Furgurson, Freedom Rising, describes the scene in the Capital. "Panic seized the people and the previous emigration [from Washington] was child's play to the present hegira," wrote a young man of that time of civil war. He was obviously educated before we had a federal education department. Furgurson's narrative goes on: "Property is valueless, business is dead," wrote a 19th century observer. "To feed incoming troops, the federal government confiscated all the flour in the mills of Georgetown and aboard schooners about to sail. Residents of Georgetown were awakened by what they feared was cannon fire; it was [instead] 3,000 barrels of flour being rolled out of one of the town's thirty-three canalside warehouses, to supply ovens being built for the army in the basement of the Capitol. Within fifteen minutes of the confiscation order, the public price of a single barrel of flour more than doubled."
Check out your local super market: the price of bread has not doubled. Yes, it has been worse, much, much worse.
After Pearl Harbor, there was a real, sinking feeling that the West Coast of the U.S. was defenseless. With the Pacific fleet crippled, what was there to stop the Japanese from seizing Seattle and San Francisco? These fears, we now know, were exaggerated. And they led to the unjustifiable internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans. Nonetheless, they did not seem irrational or unrealistic then.
But because things have been much, much worse than now does not mean that we should relax our strenuous efforts one bit. What is being proposed --- and seriously planned in Washington today --- is a grave threat to our future. The health care takeover is menacing. Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's former labor secretary, and a real bellwether for liberalism, wrote boldly to seniors: "We will let you die." Sarah Palin was publicly pilloried for saying they would do that. Reich, from Harvard, says it and gets away with it.
Rush Limbaugh was blackballed by the NFL over racist comments he never made. Yet Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg boasts about her lovely office at the Supreme Court. It faces an interior courtyard, where she won't have to see or hear those raucous protesters out in front. She can don her $3.000 Paris-made judicial robes and never have to answer for her genocidal comments about public funding for abortions. She told the New York Times she thought the Supreme Court missed the whole point of Roe when it upheld the Hyde Amendment that bans federal funding of abortion back in 1980. She always thought, she confessed, that public funding of abortion was necessary to get rid of "populations we don't want too many of." No more heinous statement has been made by a Supreme Court justice since Roger B. Taney said "the black man has no rights which the white man is bound to respect."
Another huge threat is the debt being piled upon our children's generation and our grandchildren's. The government announced on Friday that this year's deficit had climbed to $1,400,000,000,000. President Obama has managed, in just nine months, to exceed the debt run up by all 43 of his predecessors. The media likes to print it as "$1.4 trillion." Sounds small. There's a decimal, after all. But it really should be reported as $1.4 TRILLION! George W. Bush is no innocent in this regard. But if he ran up a mountain of debt, Barack Obama has answered with a Mountain Range of debt. It's Pike Peak versus the Rockies.
Can we survive? Can we come back? Yes. During that horrible year of 1968, many of us college students were pretty down. Our wonderful diplomatic history prof at University of Virginia--Norman A. Graebner--had not given up on this country. He concluded his final lecture of the year by urging us to understand the incredible unused resources of these United States. The U.S. was like the boxer, Joe Louis, he said. The Brown Bomber always had "power to spare."
The man we called "Graebner the Great" was right. America does have power to spare. That power stems ultimately from the American people's reliance on God. In God we Trust. As long as that is so, I say power to the people.