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I used to sit for an hour on the steps of the Supreme Court, across from the chambers of the Senate and House.The city was safe in those days, and the possibility of being arrested for loitering never occurred to me.To this day, I remember one teacher insisting, and I’m quoting him, that “In the five thousand years of the human race, there has never been a more principled, moral or virtuous nation than the United States of America.” He believed it, and we believed him.
But let me say that in that religious faith and in that devotion to moral values and in that respect for character, while it exists in the South, it exists throughout this nation. America loses its moral values, its dedication to idealism and religion, this will cease to be a great country. (applause) PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON : (Election Night, ’72) I would only hope that in these next four years, we can so conduct ourselves in this country and so meet our responsibilities in the world, in building peace in the world, that years from now people will look back to the generation of the 1970’s, at how we’ve conducted ourselves, and they will say: God bless America. BILL MOYERS: Events have tinged those words with irony, and one casualty of Watergate, following so closely on the heels of Vietnam, has been the easy talk about American virtue.
Men who extolled high ideals in public have-been accused of secretly corrupting them, and disturbing questions have risen anew about our government, our system and our values.
Those early Puritans, peering out from our history books, would have been pleased with their descendants in the mid-twentieth century; we still nurtured their vision of an elect people, conquering a new land, fulfilling a divine mandate. (KATE SMITH SINGS II GOD BLESS AMERICA) All this was part of Parson Weems’ America, and I was only one of his countless heirs.
My generation in the fifties may, in fact, have been the last of the clan.
And the pensive figure of Lincoln, brooding, it seemed to me on those summer Sundays, over the unknown destiny of the Union for whose survival he had become a martyr. A teacher in high school used to tell us, “There is no sight more beautiful in the world than a people governing.” And the first time I saw that enormous dome, I remembered what she said — and got a lump in my throat.
It was all so intoxicating to a schoolboy who had never been east of the Red River, that I would make this same round almost every Sunday, starting early in the morning and seldom getting back to the room I rented on Capitol Hill before twilight.
Then a promising young man named Bobby Baker, with whom I had once worked, -went to jail for criminal misuse of the influence he had gained as Lyndon Johnson’s ubiquitous lieutenant in the Senate.
BILL MOYERS: By now I was wondering who had written those textbooks we used back in school or produced all the movies we watched at Saturday matinee.
Later, in less certain and optimistic times, we would begin to see how unawares we had been, and the missing pages for the civics books would be filled in with accounts of gang rule, graft and political incompetents.
I’m not sure just exactly when I started to come to terms with the other America. Washington was still littered with their wreckage the year I arrived, and their bludgeoning tactics appeared all the more cruel and unfair.