The Imperial Presidency Has Come Home to Roost

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Joe Biden has a problem – and so do I. And so do we.

At 76 years old, you’d think I’d seen it all when it came to this country and its presidencies. Or at least most of it. I’ve been here since Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. I was born on July 20, 1944 and am a little “young” to remember him, even though I was a war baby in a time when Congress sometimes still declared war before America made it.

As a boy in my Liberal Democratic household in New York, I can safely remember how we (after “Whistle While You Work”) sang our version of the 1956 election year song when President Dwight D. Eisenhower ran against Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson. The pro-Republican kicker went like this: “Eisenhower is in power, Stevenson is an idiot.” We do, however sang“Eisenhower has no power, Stevenson will work!” Coincidentally, we never found out if this was a little true as the former Illinois governor was overwhelmed in those elections (just like in 1952).

I’ve seen at least part of the 1960s Television debates between Eisenhower’s Vice President Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy – I was 16 years old at the time – helped make JFK the youngest president to ever step into the Oval Office at 43. I can also remember his bell ringing Opening speech. We youngsters had never heard anything like this:

[T]The torch has been passed on to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a harsh and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage – unwilling to witness or allow the slow abolition of those human rights that this nation was Always committed and to which we are committed today at home and around the world. Don’t ask what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.

As a freshman at Yale, I saw him give one Closing speech in New Haven, Conn. From my point of view, he was as small as one of the tiny toy soldiers I played with on the floor of my room when I was a kid. Still, it was a thrill. Yes, he was instrumental in reinforcing the war in Vietnam and America’s global imperial presence in a hard-fought “Cold War”. Most of us teenagers, however, paid little attention to this in what came to be known as, at least until October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisiswhen he spoke to us on the radioand told us that Soviet missile sites on the island of Cuba with “a nuclear strike capability against the western hemisphere” were being prepared. As a generation that grew up crouch and cover Beneath our school desks in nuclear attack drills, young Americans everywhere, including my 18-year-old self, imagined that the time might have come for the nuclear confrontation that could leave our country in ruins and potentially wipe us out. (I also remember eating a 10-cent burger at a tiny New Haven hamburger joint – no kidding! – a little over a year later when someone suddenly poked their head in the door and said : “The President was murdered!”)


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