The first US President I remember is Harry Truman – I was five years old when Truman beat Dewey in that famous election, and remember being thrilled that, like my father, the new president had been a haberdasher.
The first presidential election I remember clearly was Eisenhower's in 1952. I kind of liked Adlai Stevenson – he seemed intelligent and relatively genial, but in those years so soon after World War II, we all "liked Ike." He had won the war, he seemed friendly, and anyhow, who could be against a war hero in those more innocent days?
By the time Eisenhower left office I was of voting age and could understand more about politics. Ike warned against the dangers of the "military-industrial complex," but in those pre-Halliburton times that warning seemed as abstract and hard to figure out as Washington's warning against foreign entanglements. More importantly, there was the rising figure of a young Senator from Massachusetts – himself a war hero, with a beautiful, elegant wife, a fetching family, and a boatload of charisma. Coming out of the relatively nondescript Eisenhower '50's, he looked exciting and new – the youngest President ever, and me and my friends voting for the first time. What could be better?
Fast forward 48 years to the present. Somehow Washington's and Eisenhower's valedictory warnings seem more real now. We're not only entangled foreignly, we're enmired in a world in which the US has lost respect, lost leadership, and lost ourselves.
From the steely resolve of Truman, the solid leadership of Eisenhower, the charisma and willingness to stare Khurschev down of Kennedy we descended into the implacability of Johnson, the sleaziness of Nixon, the fecklessness of Ford, Carter, and Reagan. We had a semi-respite with the senior Bush who at least knew moderation and some good economic days under Clinton. All that was undone by eight years of what, I am convinced, will go down in history as the most disastrous Presidency in the first 230 years of the United States.
During the Kennedy and Johnson years, as an undergraduate and graduate student and then into the Nixon years as a young professional, I was active in a number of social causes, chief among these being the Civil Rights Movement of the '60's and '70's. I watched as the country changed from the overt racism I had seen as a child to more covert forms of discrimination and then to genuine opportunity. I watched as Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, a very junior African-American Representative, put the nail in Nixon's coffin in an early morning speech that is still revered as one of the great moments in Congress. I had friends beaten and killed in the South and marched in the North, but for all the progress we've seen, really never expected to see a Black man run against a woman for the presidential nomination of a major party.
In my view we have a very clear choice in November. We can elect one more version of what the Republicans have been offering us since 1960 – a steady descent into government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations, a steady eroding (save, perhaps the Reagan years) of America's standing in the world, wars that are dictated by politics rather than by necessity, and most of all hypocrisy. The hypocrisy of a party that claims that government has no place in people's lives and then wants to regulate women's reproductive choices and who people can and can't marry, the hypocrisy of a party that promotes democracy, even as it refuses to set a timeline to leave a country whose democratically elected government has asked us to do so, the hypocrisy of a party that espouses freedom from our "addiction to oil" while insisting what will cure that addiction is more oil.
The nomination of Sarah Palin was a cynical insult to the intelligence of American women and the American electorate. We can expect Rovian attacks on Obama and Biden in that same spirit of cynicism and condescension to the electorate. I believe the average American voter is intelligent enough to look behind the curtain of a "great and powerful" candidate whose idea of intelligent debate is "noun, verb, prisoner of war" and see that who is back there is someone who may be a good man, but who is a very, very, bad wizard. It's going to take more than three clicks of the ruby slippers to get us back home from this one. It's going to take a candidate of real, substantive, change. Thank heavens we have one.