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Commentary: Will we come through?

Keith C. Burris, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Political News

In a way, the fever broke. In a way, the counterculture wore itself out. In a way, it became a commodity.

And Reagan, by sheer dint of charm and amiability, pulled the politics of the country center-right, while the universities went more and more left.

But the other thing that happened is that the system exerted its own grace. Our institutions held firm, and our politics righted itself.

One reason that happened was that a few politicians met the test. They were institutional men, most of them, trying to defend the institutions and the norms of the republic.

Eugene J. McCarthy took the Vietnam War to the people because, he said, the Senate had failed in its duty and needed to be reattached to our founding document.

Walter Lippmann wrote: "The mission of Sen. McCarthy is to do whatever a gifted and honest man can do to stop the rot in the American political system."

Jerry Ford, a decent and grounded man, a man of the U.S. House, the people's house, became president. And he acknowledged the elephant in the room when he said of Nixon and Watergate, "our long national nightmare is over." He gave us decency and dignity in the presidency again. He restored the presidency.

We need those qualities in a president, it's clear. We want our president to be decent, and to be able to call decency out of us.

Whatever other capabilities he had, Donald Trump could not do that.

My prayer for President Joe Biden is that he not get too bogged down in demands for change. Be Ike, Mr. President. Be Ford. Be Jimmy Carter. Give us decency and dignity and let the country breathe.

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What feels different about now is that after "Vietnam/Watergate," we felt we'd come through.

We had the feeling that we had been through a national trauma, we'd been tested, our system had been tested, and we'd come through.

 

We'd had a long and difficult national civics lesson and had found a few, new true leaders, and we were wiser and stronger for it.

Sam Ervin defended the Constitution. Hannah Arendt's friend, Mary McCarthy, a cold-eyed novelist and public intellectual of the left, wrote a series of reports for The New Yorker on the "simple country lawyer" from North Carolina. Ervin taught the nation that presidents are not kings and that we are a nation of laws and not men.

We are unusually lucky in America, in that, during a crisis of the republic, we usually find the right person for the moment: Lincoln and FDR being the greatest examples, but McCarthy, Ford and Ervin being others.

Of course, the nation did not see any of them that way in their own time.

But does anyone, now, feel that our long national nightmare is ending?

Our institutions seem, quite literally, battered.

Well, maybe there is more hope than we think.

Maybe the fever is breaking and we just don't see it yet.

In weeks, President Biden has restored efficacy and competence to the executive branch. He works at being decent and dignified. He is attempting to restore the presidency.

Mike Pence, under threat of political extinction, not to mention actual death, did his duty. My daughter once shrieked when I called him a good man. But, yes, he is.

And what is Rep. Jamie Raskin, the lead House impeachment manager, but an honest man trying to stop the rot?

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