Sunday, March 21, 2010

Stewart Udall

The news of the death of Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior under Kennedy and Johnson, casts today's unseemly partisan political dysfunction into sharp relief. It seems there is no cause that can unite Washington like the great environmental movement of the 60s and 70s did, not even the health of our nation.

Udall oversaw a tremendous increase in national parks (including Cape Cod National Seashore for those of us marooned in Massachusetts); helped pass path-breaking legislation like the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966; and - here the bipartisanship comes in - set the stage for the even stronger environmental legislation signed by Richard Nixon in the early 70s. It was a time of unified national will. I remember thinking of Udall as a savior.

Forty years later, we have gone backwards. On a day when an historic vote is being taken on health care, partisanship reigns, fanatics spit on congressmen, tea-partiers abuse Barney Frank and John Lewis as they walk into Congress (guess what was shouted), and I just want to run for the clean air and pure water and wilderness of another time and space.

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