Graves Registry: The presidents and the pretender


I have lived through the administrations of many presidents. I only thought that two of them were truly great men. There might have been a third, but he was murdered in Texas before he had much of a chance to realize the future that he had envisioned for America.

Lyndon Johnson picked the banner of civil rights up off that bloody street in Dallas, not because Johnson, born and raised in the fiercely segregated South, had any deep commitment to integration. He did it because equal rights for all Americans was one of John F. Kennedy's preeminent dreams — and because Mr. Johnson believed it was the right thing to do.

Imagine, an ambitious man, disregarding every cultural bias and political instinct, doing something simply because it was the right thing to do.

In granting the long-overdue rights that should have been inherently theirs as citizens of the United States, President Johnson not only ensured that minorities would be allowed to sit anywhere they pleased on a city bus, but that their voices would finally be heard at the highest levels of government. I wonder if Kennedy and Johnson, as they moved through their moments in the nation's history, could have imagined that, within the next half century, America would elect an African American to the presidency.

Barack Obama has striven, against mighty odds, to fulfill the faith bestowed upon him by the American people in 2008. He inherited the responsibility of stitching up a country that was in tatters after years of ruthless "you're either with us or against us" Republicanism. The big players on Wall Street, unleashed by Ronald Reagan's mania for deregulation, had succeeded in stuffing their own pockets with the dreams of millions of Americans who had devoted their working lives to establishing homes and building a comfortable retirement. A war, that George W. Bush had gotten all dressed up in his flying suit to tell us was over, droned on and on.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Obama's presidency is the breadth of what he has been able to accomplish despite the opposition of men like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Sen. McConnell's vow to thwart any policies that the new administration proposed to help the nation regain its footing had no rational basis in responsible dissention. McConnell and men of his ilk were offended that suddenly their tight little world in Washington wasn't going to be presided over by a rich white guy. Despite the incessant negativity, 15 million public sector jobs have been created and 20 million more Americans have health insurance.

Listening to the president talk at the Democratic National Convention was like being offered a cool drink of water after being dragged through Donald Trump's fiery desert of despair and doom in Cleveland the previous week. The overriding message of Mr. Trump's campaign – "Make America Great Again" -- is that he alone has the compass that will lead us out of his trumped-up Sahara.

A man who was handed millions of dollars by his father, who never struggled for anything, sacrificed anything, and who never was committed to anything but a pathetic need for self-promotion, has cast himself as the savior of millions of people in this country who worry about things like food bills. Richie Rich has evolved into King Con.

Michael Bloomberg had the best repost to Mr. Trump's contention that he alone can guide us all to the oasis where we can quench our parched hopes and replenish our dreams for the future. Mr. Bloomberg, who wasn't handed a fat check by his father to kick start a career in business, has managed to accumulate the kind of wealth that makes Trump, with his string of bankruptcies, abandoned properties, and stiffed workers look like a street peddler.

Bloomberg told the crowd in Philadelphia that, "Trump wants to run this country the way he has run his businesses. God help us."

Hillary Clinton may or may not assume a place with Mr. Obama and Mr. Johnson in my estimation of greatness. But, if her acceptance speech in Philadelphia was any indication, the potential is certainly there. Taking dead aim at Citizens United is a splendid start. And I believe that Mrs. Clinton possesses one core intuit that Mr. Obama lacked when he assumed office. She knows what she is up against when she tries to shift the balance of power away from money and greed and back to the people in the United States. No Mrs. Nice Guy for her. Time has proven that it just doesn't work.

— Alden Graves is a regular Banner columnist.

The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bennington Banner.


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