Friday, February 23, 2007

Buy the Book, Kid: Remembering America

Dear Richard N. Goodwin, author of Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties,

We’ll begin with the butter up: I have recently finished reading your memoir, Remembering America -- your passionate and introspective account of your early participation in the Quiz Show Hearings (on a side note: were you happy with Rob Morrow’s depiction of you in the movie Quiz Show?) and your experiences clerking, writing speeches, and advocating policies for the great leaders of a bygone era – Justice Frankfurter, John Kennedy, LBJ, Eugene McCarthy and RFK. Allow me a moment of giddy appreciation for the power of your prose. Few works of non-fiction have forced me to cease my reading and marvel at statements such as:

"Democracy is not an artifact but a process, not a form of power -- like dictatorship or monarchy -- but a continual, unresolvable struggle against the restraints that make men free."

Now to carry out my purposes: In this book, you say that “the sixties have passed into history, but the animating spirit of that time is not dead.” You wrote that in 1988 and I hope that in the intervening years, particularly in the most recent few, the young generation of Americans -- my generation -- has rekindled this hope within that part of you that you left behind in 1968. I hold onto this desire, for it has become inexorably tied to my hopes for Senator Barack Obama. I believe that with your help, with your triumphant return to politics, you could assist with and bear witness to the Senator’s ascension to the order of leaders you once so loyally served.

Of great leadership you wrote: “If we believed in our leaders, it was because we believed in ourselves. If we felt a sense of high possibilities, it was because the possibilities were real. If our expectations of achievement were great, it was because we understood the fullness of our own powers and the greatness of our country.”

Surely you must sense this potential -- to galvanize the hopeful spirit of a nation -- in Senator Obama, Mr. Goodwin. Just envision your collaboration – you and the Senator together on the campaign jet, just like on the Caroline with the then Senator Kennedy – both of them young, both possessing idealist, grandiose dreams and the capacity by which to make them manifest. It would be more than just a trip down memory lane. Much more! You would not be old Nestor in this epic battle to rebuild America, providing occasional counsel and long-winded anecdotes. No, you could be wise and crafty Odysseus, channeling the spirit of the sixties and imbuing the campaign with your transcendent prose and your recaptured energies.

And now for a little reverse psychology: Of course we would understand, Mr. Goodwin, if you believe yourself to be too old for the political fray or if your heart has hardened to our current public discourse. If this be the case, then I say to you, to a man whose story (like Senator Obama’s) has inspired my own pursuits, that “youth,” as you once wrote, “[is] not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. They cannot be moved by those who cling to a present that is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger that come with even the most peaceful progress.”

This is the flavor of rhetoric and passion now long forgotten in our political discourse and public debate. Don’t you see? The Senator needs you – we the people need you, dammit. If your answer remains no, however, then at the very least I ask you to write to Senator Obama and instruct him to “buy the book, kid.”

1 comment:

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