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GWB, FDR, HST, JFK ... and LBJ

In a speech today, U.S. President George W. Bush invoked a lineage of Democratic presidents:

The party of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and John Kennedy is rightly remembered for confidence and resolve in times of war and hours of crisis. Senator Kerry has turned his back on "pay any price," and "bear any burden." He's replaced those commitments with "wait and see," and "cut and run."

A few things occured to me as I heard this fragment of the speech on NPR. First of all, I find it disturbing that our current president is pushing an agenda for tax cuts during a time of war, and wonder who he intends to be the bearer of this burden he has created. Secondly, John Kerry's questions to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in 1971 -- "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" -- reminds me of the confidence and resolve of another Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson, who appears to have been omitted from the lineage mentioned in the speech. Finally, thinking of LBJ reminds me of his vision for "The Great Society" (an excerpt from which I include below). I realize that the liberal perspective espoused in this speech may be out of vogue for some (not me), but I doubt any would claim that the political rhetoric and mudslinging of the 2004 campaign comes anywhere close to the grandness of vision articulated forty years ago by another confident, resolute president in a time of war.

[Excerpts from President Lyndon B. Johnson's Remarks at the University of Michigan on May 22, 1964:]

The purpose of protecting the life of our Nation and preserving the liberty of our citizens is to pursue the happiness of our people. Our success in that pursuit is the test of our success as a Nation.

For a century we labored to settle and to subdue a continent. For half a century we called upon unbounded invention and untiring industry to create an order of plenty for all of our people.

The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization.

Your imagination, your initiative, and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.

The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning.

The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community.

It is a place where man can renew contact with nature. It is a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what it adds to the understanding of the race. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods.

But most of all, the Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.

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