Richard Goodwin died last week. I got to know who he was fifty years ago because I admired Robert Kennedy's eloquence. It was then I discovered that Dick Goodwin was the source of that eloquence. He came from a working class Jewish family, He was a brilliant student, went to Harvard Law, but never practised.
Instead, he went to work for John F. Kennedy and then for his brother Bobby. It was Goodwin who wrote one of the younger Kennedy's most famous speeches. Along with Adam Walinsky, he crafted Kennedy's Day of Affirmation Speech, delivered in South Africa, in 1966:
Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
That same sentiment was behind Lyndon Johnson's speech after the passage of the Voting Rights Act:
“It's not just Negroes, but really it's all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”
Jeff Greenfield writes in The Daily Beast:
In his 2014 introduction to the e-book version of Remembering America, Goodwin wrote that “the memory of the Sixties remains fresh in my mind This is not simply the nostalgia of a man in his eighties. The decade of the Sixties was one of those special moments in our history, when important public issues animated our citizens, when large achievement seemed a realistic possibility; and when the American faith was charged with a determination equal to the needs and the promise of the nation.”
This is, of course, a romantic version of that time, one that is rejected and even scorned by a significant segment of the American populace. And Dick’s words have an almost quaint ring in our current political climate. But it’s worth remembering that when Dick Goodwin and his colleagues entered the White House in 1961, no black or woman or Italian had ever sat on the Supreme Court; no African-American had ever been a member of the Cabinet, or led a Fortune 500 company; that from Capitol Hill to Wall Street to the powerhouse law firms and ad agencies, to the executive offices of newspapers, magazines, and broadcasting, your skin color, religion, gender, and family background imposed sharp limits on what you could do and what you could be. Goodwin was part of a movement that changed that bleak reality for good.
Goodwin was a master of the English language. And he was an idealist. Something to remember when you listen to the illiterate who presently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
A brief note: If you have sent comments to the last couple of blogposts, I'm not ignoring them. They simply aren't coming through. Let's hope Blogger fixes the problem soon.