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Be responsible and VOTE! (11/02/2008)
By Janet Lewis Burns
January 7, 1960: President Dwight Eisenhower announces a $200 million government surplus and says he will submit a balanced $79.8 billion budget for fiscal 1961.

As Election Day is fast approaching, one wonders how we got where we are today. Thoughts of the sixties come to mind, a decade when many monumental changes took place in U.S. history. For instance, the 18-year-old vote was adapted, as well as voting rights for southern African Americans. It was the end of the military draft. There was amnesty for draft resisters.

Violence, drugs, and sexual immorality ran rampant. After 300 years of white dominance, African Americans began an aggressive struggle for justice and equality. People of the country were divided over the Vietnam War. From January 1969 to April 1970 more than 5,000 student-related bombings shook American soil to its very roots. It was estimated that as many as 50% of American troops in Vietnam had used heroin, opium, and/or marijuana.

By October 1960 American voters were gearing up for what was to be one of the closest elections in U.S. history. John F. Kennedy, then 43 years of age, stood before the public in front of City Hall in New York City and proclaimed, “The old era is ending. The old ways will not do. Too many Americans have lost their way, their will, and their sense of historic purpose. It is time, in short, for a new generation of leadership – new men to cope with new problems and new opportunities.”

On September 26, 1960, Republican Richard M. Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy squared off in the nation’s first televised presidential debate, with 70 million Americans glued to their televisions in anticipation. JFK arose the winner by just 118,574 votes, with the tally at 34,226,731 to 34,108,157. It seemed apparent that presidential candidate Kennedy’s confident, cool, and likable persona likely put him in the White House, thus the genesis of a new age, movie star politician.

The incident that secured the black vote for JFK is a human-interest story. In October 1960, civil rights leader Martin Luther King was convicted of, and thrown in jail for, a bogus traffic violation The fear that he could be killed in a volatile environment had prompted JFK’s offer to help his frightened wife, which led to King’s release from jail.

It’s disgraceful to note that as recently as 1960, African American citizens were harassed by whites, who used dirty tactics to keep them from registering to vote. They enforced bogus poll taxes for blacks, imposed ridiculous guessing games and extremely difficult tests about the government. Hundreds of African American students were arrested and nine Alabama State students were expelled for their involvement in a peaceful protest against segregation in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 9, 1960.

By the end of 1965, half of the American population would consist of the under-25 Baby Boomers. A “generation gap” rebellion was the product of a predominantly white culture rising up against convention, proclaiming that adults were hopelessly out of touch with modern ideas. Millions of young people espoused “free speech” and adopted the credo, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.”

How did we get from a $200 million government surplus in 1960 to an October 2008 federal debt of $10 trillion and rising? That would amount to $48,000 per adult in the U.S. and $96,ooo per couple.

Between 1945 and 1960 the median family income in the United States nearly doubled. The best things in life were free. You could get an ice cream cone for a dime and the prize in a box of Cracker Jacks was as exciting as it got!

It is a great responsibility, as well as a privilege, to be well-informed American citizens and to cast our votes on Election Day, Tuesday, November 4th.

In July 1969, American astronauts went to the moon and back. Now, 39 years later, with our deficit sky-high and our economy crashing and burning, Americans may be forced to take the most courageous action of all time…SACRIFICE!

Janet Burns lives in Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com. 


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