"Where were you on November 22nd?" Anyone who was old enough in 1963 to be cognizant still knows the answer to that question. Forty-five years ago President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed and, for a few days that November, the earth stood still.
I was an E-1 in the midst of Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. Sportscasters like to joke about the "frozen tundra" of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin but they haven't seen anything until they have been to Ft. Sill in the winter. There were times when we marched on solid ice on the parade grounds. This recollection is not to be confused with old-timers who recall walking to school in the snow; uphill both ways. No, Ft. Sill was the real deal.
To this day, that day is crystal clear in my memory. We were out on artillery field exercises when a sergeant came around and told us that our Commander In Chief had been shot. At that point there were no details. We only knew that Kennedy had been rushed to a hospital. Our exercises were immediately cancelled and we loaded up our equipment and got ready to ride back to base. When we got there the flag was flying at half-mast and there was a sense that the Army was on stand-by in case there was a foreign government involved with the assassination.
As it turned out, however, we wound up with the next few days off and most of us hung out in the recreation room where there was a TV set. We watched, stunned, as the events unfolded. The scenes from the motorcade and the clip of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald were replayed incessantly and we were mesmerized by the images. We had a hard time believing what we were seeing was real.
Yet there it was. The crown prince of Camelot was dead.
While my three year Army service was just beginning in 1963, I had been home for quite a while and was working as a staff writer for The Fresno Guide in California when Martin Luther King was killed. A short time later when Robert Kennedy was gunned down a lot of us wondered aloud at what our world was turning into. The names Martin, Bobby and John became a hit song and it seemed to us at the time that we were in the midst of a chaotic fall into anarchy.
Now in retrospect I realize that in the short span of five years America had lost its innocence. The drawbridge leading to Camelot had been rolled up and the wonderful life that it had promised had been shunted into exile, not only surrounded by a formidable moat but by an overgrowth of briars and brambles as well.
Lyndon Johnson tried to keep things on path but the times and his ability to respond to them were just not the right combination. We were hopelessly mired in Vietnam and Johnson was pulled into the quicksand against his will. Johnson had also alienated Southern Democrats with his push for Civil Rights legislation.
Richard M. Nixon, along with his Republican cronies, took advantage of the falling out along racial lines in his subsequent claiming of the presidency. When the evils of Nixon produced the Jimmy Carter Administration, Republicans knew it was only a temporary setback.
Ronald Reagan revitalized the Southern Democrats with his code words and convinced them that it was important that they vote against their own financial interests in order to save their social standing. Then, with voodoo economics in full force, Reagan looted the Social Security system in order to obscure a mind-blowing deficit that lived on into the first George Bush Administration and has been further amplified over the past eight years under the second George Bush Administration.
In the forum section of the May 2008 edition of Playboy Magazine, Eric Alterman presented some fascinating information. Since 1960 the federal deficit has averaged $131 billion under Republican presidents, while Democrats have kept it at about $30 billion; on average a Republican year sees the deficit grow by $36 billion, while under Democrats it shrinks by $25 billion. National debt has increased more than $200 billion a year under Republican presidents and less than $100 billion a year under Democrats.
The top 0.1 percent of Americans, who earn more than $10 million a year, pay a lesser share of their income in taxes than those who make between $100,000 and $200,000. Meanwhile, the average CEO of a 500 company took home $13.5 million in total compensation in 2005, a year in which the top one percent of Americans earned nearly 22 percent of all income.
Republicans, like the bad guys in Nottingham, steal from the poor and give to the rich. While they claim to hold dear the concept of smaller government they invariably make the government bigger and less responsive to the vast majority of Americans.
But now here we are, 45 years after Kennedy's death, entering another era of hope and inspiration. The briars and brambles are being cleared away. A majority of Americans have stopped listening to the tales of petty, artificial, divisiveness. The majority of voters have finally figured out that what a mother in the hood and a redneck in a southern mountain town have in common is that neither one of them owns stock in Halliburton and neither one has health insurance for their children.
It is time, once again, to enter the castle using the drawbridge of hope.