My love for Lincoln goes beyond the fact that I was born on his birthday; though that certainly did help. My childhood viewings of Henry Fonda in “Young Mr. Lincoln” (1940) were, for me, like sacred civic encounters. Mini lessons in the American spirit at its best.
I wish Joe Biden well in his effort to unite America. With his unique combination of qualities, in particular empathy, experience, and resoluteness, I believe he’s the “right man at the right time” for this herculean task. His hopeful, optimistic spirit won’t hurt. Don’t believe me? Pop into Bennie Tudino’s Pizza some time (for a big delicious slice) and check out the wonderful photo of smiling uncle Joe: beaming happiness.
As crazy as it sounds, I myself actually ran for president. Twice. Somehow, it seemed like a natural extension of my social justice-based work as educator, teaching—to quote the great Brazilian philosopher Paolo Freire—”for a world in which it’s easier to love.” Indeed, my college courses often resemble dialogic seminars on how to make a better world. Though wealth inequality has suddenly become an issue in vogue (as it ought to be), I’ve been bringing it up as a topic in my classrooms for 20 years.
Once, while teaching English at Cascades—a progressive, alternative high school located in NYC’s Chinatown—a student, in response to my call for a better wealth distribution in America, said to me: “Why don’t you run for president!” And so, I did. Nobody seemed to notice much. I got zero votes, the exact total of corporate campaign funds I received. More evidence of the nefarious influence big money has on our democracy.
Or, as Warren Beatty’s character raps in “Bulworth”:
“You been taught in this country there’s speech that is free, but free don’t get you no spots on TV. If you want to have senators not on the take, then give them free air time…they won’t have to fake.”
One of a few happy memories of my campaign I’ll share with you here. I’ll never forget the day when Hoboken City Clerk James Farina, while power walking down Washington Street, saw me standing with a small crowd at the bus stop at Twelfth Street. He proclaimed with vigor: “I’m supporting you for president!” an act of kindness which elated me as much as it seemed to perplex the silent bus stop people.
Though I came of age in the Seventies and Eighties, politically, my heart and soul are rooted in the utopian idealism of the Sixties. In the magical Age of Aquarius, to quote the song from “Hair,” a play written by Hoboken resident James Rado. Hopeful signs of spring abound. The cherry blossoms are in bloom. As we emerge from this awful pandemic, let’s try to summon our better angels (as Lincoln advised).
Then, in the words of Frank Sinatra, maybe the best really will be “yet to come.” Your reactions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.