Jan. 22, 2010
That day22 January 1973--was a day very much like today, cold, gray, threatening. I was walking around the House Office Buildings, hunting for a job. The previous November, I had been defeated for the State Assembly in New York. I hadnt wanted to campaign on abortion one way or the other, but I couldnt avoid it. After anguishing over my decision for weeks, I came out strongly anti-abortion. Immediately, the $25,000 promised to my struggling campaigna huge sum in those dayswas withheld by the New York State Democratic Party. Although I never met him, I was told that Harold Ickes, Jr. had made the decision. Were not going to have anyone in the Democratic Party who is anti-abortion, he was quoted as saying. With that, I lost the race that was said to be a sure thing.
Job-hunting for an anti-abortion Democrat wasnt easy then. Its not easy now. Then, in the midst of my search came the thunderous newsthe U.S. Supreme Court had struck down the abortion laws of all fifty states.
Broke, unemployed, I could not have been more dejected. With the Courts radical ruling, I thought it would be this way forever. In my experience, no oneat least no one who was not a segregationisthad spoken out against a ruling of the Supreme Court. We had been schooled to believe that the Supreme Court had the final word.
The New York Daily News did not run a banner headline on Roe v. Wade to mark that day. Instead, all eyes were focused on the news that read:
Lyndon Johnson Dead at 64 Heart Attack Fells Him in Texas
Tuesday, January 23, 1973
Lyndon Baines Johnson served as our nation's 36th president.
San Antonio, Tex., Jan. 22 (Special) - Lyndon Baines Johnson, 36th President of the United States who set the nation on a course of "Great Society" reforms but left office with his countrymen bitterly divided over the Vietnam War, died today after suffering an apparent heart attack at his central Texas ranch. He was 64.
Almost the only Latin I knew in those days was a quote from French President de Gaulle: Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. Thus passeth the glory of the world. That phrase expressed my feelings on learning that LBJ was dead.
You cannot exaggerate Lyndon Johnsons presence in those days. He was as adulated as Barack Obama in 1964 and 1965, but more despised than George W. Bush by 1968. He was almost a force of nature. In the early days of his administration, he had only to propose a measure and Congress obediently bowed before him. Some of those measureslike the Great Civil Rights Act of 1964, like the Voting Rights Act of 1965corrected great historic wrongs. But many of his other bills caused grievous problems, harmed millions of families, and haunt us to this day. Love him or hate him, Johnson in his prime bestrode the narrow world like a colossus. And here he had died.
Richard Nixon had just been inaugurated for a second term two days before, on 20 January 1973. Nixon ordered people to consult Lincolns Second Inaugural for guidance on his own oath-taking ceremonies. When all the Presidents men studied the profound, troubling words of Lincoln in 1865, and read the Emancipators sense of Gods holding our nation in His judgment, they decided to go another direction entirely.
Nixon carried 49 states the previous November. But in crushing Sen. George McGovern, Nixons singularly joyless victory was robbed of all sense of triumph. We now know that the mood of dejection came from the top. On Election Night, President Nixon had demanded the resignations of his Cabinet. How weird.
Today, we can give Nixon his due. He promised to end the war in Vietnam with honor. When he took office in 1969, there were 535,000 young Americans fighting in South Vietnam, with hundreds of dead and wounded every week. There was no prospect for peace. Four years later, Nixon had reduced the U.S. forces in country to 25,000. He had forced the North Vietnamese Communists to sign Peace Accords. He had provided arms, funding, and training for the South Vietnamese, who were at least maintaining a fragile independence. And Nixon had brought home several hundred POWs, including young Navy flier John McCain.
We did not know that Inauguration week in 1973 why everything seemed so somber here in Washington. Nixon knew why. The troubles that began with a third rate burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel the previous June would blow up like a prairie twister to consume the Nixon Presidency.
Distractions of 1973. Johnson dead. Nixon brooding. The wounds of war still unhealed. And then there was this abortion question. I could hardly believe that my beloved country would actually embraceor at least be forced to submitto abortion forever.
What had become of the nation that believed the God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time? How could Americans ever reconcile themselves to this cruel and unjust ruling?
Well, we didnt. First in Catholic parishes, then in Lutheran churches, and soon in a mighty rush in thousands of Evangelical churches and para-church ministries, the heart of America rallied.
Within one year, the first March for Life was organized. Efforts soon got underway to resist. Churches and churchgoers sponsored pregnancy resource centers to help desperate young women choose life. Right to life groups organized, lobbied, wrote, and took to the airwaves.
When I joined the March for Life participants today, I rejoiced to stand with people young enough to be my grandchildren. I have gone from a young man to an old man at these marches.
One year ago, all our great expectations seemed eclipsed. It was as if we were thrown back to that dread day of 22 January 1973. How could anyone resist the irresistible tide? The victor brought millions to his historic Inaugural. He was hailed as sort of a God by Newsweek Magazine. Once again, Death rode on his pale horse.
What hope and what change we have seen in just one year. Has Health Care that kills been stopped? It seems so. Can anyone remember any words to cherish from that Inauguration of just one year ago? We may not be out of the woods, but we are out of the swamp.
This morning, I was late for the March. I got distracted. Not by Johnson, not by Nixon, not by Obama, but my 13-month old grandson on the Internet. Samuel was speaking words that thrilled my heart. His words were conveyed to me by technologies that did not even exist when the High Court did its low work in 1973. These new technologies also provide a window on the womb. They let us communicate the truth. His Truth. This is the Lords doing. It is marvelous in our eyes.