Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Celebrate The Day

Indeed President Obama, time to put off childish things. And thanks for the tribute to those who put this country on the right path, and recognized those duties to themselves, their nation and to humanity.

Yesterday I checked in on some of the pre-inaugural coverage on CSpan and saw film of several past inaugurations. Watching John F. Kennedy's proceedings, the luncheon afterwards was aired, and I got a great surprise. There in the luncheon, talking with poet Robert Frost, was my old boss, Senator Ralph W. Yarborough. He was smiling blissfully and proudly, so pleased that the candidate he'd chosen very early on as the best for the office of President, had won.

Since he was from Texas, you may have assumed he'd joined the forces behind Lyndon Baines Johnson, to attempt to boost his state's influence in D.C. You would have been wrong. Like so many principled legislators and other public servants, el Senador chose positions that often helped his principles and hurt his career. I am so hoping that the election of Barack Obama will give a boost to today's public servants, to make those hard choices again.

Today's inauguration may never have happened if earlier principled leaders had not stepped forward to support civil rights. Senator Yarborough was one of those. It is reported now as if it were a myth that southern legislators supporting civil rights knew they would lose their offices. The Democratic party did, as Lyndon Johnson predicted, lose the south for a generation. The individuals like Senator Yarborough who made that choice earned and deserve our gratitude.

When I went to work in his Capitol Hill office, it was 1966 and his career was winding down. As I recently had the pleasure of discussing with the son of President Johnson's last press secretary,John Christian, in Austin, there were advantages that had come out of being the last, principled, voter committing to put Civil Rights through the congress. The freedom he had because he really didn't need to run for office anymore was probably what gave him the courage to push through the Cold War G.I. Bill and the first legislation to give Federal protection to endangered species. As I came to the office in 1966, I had the rare privilege of working on that legislation.

Although I was marching outside the White House against the Vietnam War, I still want to give President Johnson full credit for the courage it took to stand, and fight firmly, for Civil Rights legislation. I know the sort of criticism he got from old friends, because I saw some of it come in to Senator Yarborough's office when I was there after that vote.

For the next few election cycles, only by committing to oppose civil rights could representatives from backwards areas (outside of Austin) get voted into office. There are still areas of this red state that require that kind of disgrace. I do believe that the transcendence of today's significance will make that tawdry aspect of politics here and in other areas of racist prejudice look ever more untenable. I do hope that the shining light of celebration for the soul will shrivel that kind of hate.

I wish pride to all of you who worked for better feelings and ideals. Congratulations.

Remember the courage of the ones who chose the right way to lead their lives even though they had to sacrifice their own careers to do it.

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Blogger Douglas Watts said...

Well said. Thank you, Ruth.

-- Doug Watts

10:47 AM  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Congratulations to us all!

10:52 AM  
Blogger Ruth said...

Hey, we have a country to be proud of, and it's gotten better.

2:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is what HRC was referring to when she mentioned that a presidnet brought civil rights. She was critized for that, but MLKjr,while opposing LBJ on Viet Nam, had appreciation for what he had done for civil rights. Congradulation all around. And thanks.

6:58 PM  

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