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40 years ago this week: presidential politics and parallels

January 23, 2009

In honor of the excitement of this week’s political events, let’s look back at American politics this week 40 years ago.

On January 20, 1969, President Richard Nixon was inaugurated as the 37th president of the United States. Previously vice-president under Eisenhower from 1953 through 1961, Nixon won the election over Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey. The presidential election leading up to this inauguration was a controversial one, including the assassination of Democratic candidate Robert Kennedy.

In an uncanny parallel to this year’s election, the newly elected Nixon inherited a country frustrated by an ongoing war, promising change and stability. Nixon’s predecessor Lyndon B. Johnson had earned increasingly low ratings for his Vietnam War policies which allowed thousands upon thousands of young Americans to die in war.

In his inaugural address, Nixon said, “The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker.” Nixon pledged to rebuild the Western Alliance, foster relations with China, pursue arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, initiate a peace process in the Middle East, control inflation in the U.S., accelerate desegregation and reform welfare. And, of course, he promised to end the Vietnam War, which, after much fighting, he succeeded in ending completely in 1973.

And now, I leave you with an excerpt from Nixon’s inaugural speech. His words are moving, inspirational and uncannily relevant to our current political situation.

“I ask you to share with me today the majesty of this moment. In the orderly transfer of power, we celebrate the unity that keeps us free. Each moment in history is a fleeting time, precious and unique. But some stand out as moments of beginning, in which courses are set that shape decades or centuries. This can be such a moment.

Forces now are converging that make possible, for the first time, the hope that many of man’s deepest aspirations can at last be realized. The spiraling pace of change allows us to contemplate, within our own lifetime, advances that once would have taken centuries

In throwing wide the horizons of space, we have discovered new horizons on earth.

For the first time, because the people of the world want peace, and the leaders of the world are afraid of war, the times are on the side of peace. Eight years from now America will celebrate its 200th anniversary as a nation. Within the lifetime of most people now living, mankind will celebrate that great new year which comes only once in a thousand years—the beginning of the third millennium. What kind of nation we will be, what kind of world we will live in, whether we shape the future in the image of our hopes, is ours to determine by our actions and our choices.

The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker. This honor now beckons America—the chance to help lead the world at last out of the valley of turmoil, and onto that high ground of peace that man has dreamed of since the dawn of civilization.

If we succeed, generations to come will say of us now living that we mastered our moment, that we helped make the world safe for mankind. This is our summons to greatness. I believe the American people are ready to answer this call.”

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