Forty years ago today I remember waking on a clear sunny morning to the sounds of birds at my window. I had gone to bed the night before after watching President Johnson’s speech on Vietnam which ended in his startling announcement that he would not seek another term as President. I was elated. I hated to see Johnson leave the national scene because he had done so much for civil rights and for the poor in this country. We have not seen his like since. But the specter of Vietnam hung over the upcoming election like the grim reaper. I had long since joined the ranks of the dissenters and had been voicing opposition to the war since late in 1965 so the candidacies of first Eugene McCarthy and then Robert Kennedy held out great hope that we would begin to change our tragic course in Southeast Asia. On this day it looked as if all things were to come to pass. It felt as if there was a new dawn in America. I remember grabbing a quick breakfast and then heading out the door unto Sixth Street toward my car heading off for classes in Allendale. I got about half way across the street when I encountered my old friend John Hierholzer. “Hey Joe!” he shouted, “What do you make of Johnson’s speech last night”? I stopped in the middle of the street as he drove his car up to me, “It looks like Bobby’s got it now!” I shouted back in glee. “There’s no one but Humphrey standing between him and the nomination, he should be able to beat Hubert”, I said. “Remember what day it is”, John admonished. “What day is it?” I asked. “April Fool’s Day” was his response. So it was.
I had first met John at St.John’s Lutheran when I was in second grade. I still remember it. I was assigned my seat and behind me was seated the new kid in school who was full of questions about what to do and where to go. He kind of latched on to me and we became fast friends. I lived in the country then so we saw each other only during school, but later that year we moved into the city down by the river near the old factories and he brought me home with him a few times and introduced me to his parents. In due course we moved into the same block, our house being just around the corner. John and I went through the rest of grade school, junior high school and high school together. Upon graduation we applied to the same college so again we were classmates. On this morning we ran into each other as each of us was about to drive the thirty miles to the Allendale campus. His welcome and familiar voice always carried a note of caution, a trait he picked up from his stern German father. John was the kind of friend every mom wanted their son to be around, whenever we had the urge to do something rash or stupid one could always depend on John to point out the folly of it and make us stop and think. So when he told me it was April Fool’s Day a chill shot through me; a certain indescribable foreboding. I quickly shrugged it off marking it down as one of my friends odd remarks for which he was so well known, hoping there could not possibly be any significance. I was wrong.
Forty years ago was another time when the country was deeply anguished over questions of war and peace. For a few brief weeks McCarthy and Kennedy canvassed the country gathering support for their positions on the war. Later in April Hubert Humphrey announced that he would seek the Presidency representing the Administration’s war record, but for now the dissenter’s held the field. McCarthy, a deeply introspective professorial type, held out at length about how Vietnam compared to the Carthaginian wars of ancient Rome, arguing that the waste of blood and treasure would sap the country and warning of the folly that was Vietnam. Rarely has America been blessed with such thoughtfulness and wisdom. Fast forward 40 years. Today, in the midst of a conflict that some say will last a hundred years, and other say will cost three trillion dollars, the campaign for the highest office in the land is being dominated by pseudo-issues. To Wit: on March 21, Bill Richardson, former Secretary in Bill Clinton’s cabinet and Clinton appointee as Ambassador to the United Nations, switched allegiances and endorsed Obama for the Presidency calling Barack “the Candidate of a lifetime”. This set off a howl from the Clinton campaign with 1992 campaign manager James Carville openly comparing Richardson to Judas Iscariot, saying that it was no coincidence that at about this time of the year (Easter) “Judas betrayed his lord for thirty pieces of silver”. On March 29, Carville reiterated his comments saying that he is proud of what he said. Now exactly when, Mr. Carville, did Bill Clinton become Lord? Have you forgotten that you live in a republic? But such is the fever of this campaign and such are the issues around which it is being waged that one as bright and savvy as Carville could openly claim that the Lord has now assumed the earthly form of none other than Slick Willy himself. Jesus Christ.
This brings to mind the lines of Bob Dylan:
“But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.”—Bob Dylan (1)
(1) Dylan, Bob. “Lyrics, 1962-85 by Bob Dylan.” 1973,1985 Alfred A Knopf, Inc., New York, New York. Pg. 93