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Jackson for the Day

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We lawyers have precious few heroes to worship. One of them, however, is Robert H. Jackson, probably America’s greatest attorney general, and a man who reflects a number of civic values now lamentably in poor supply. John Q. Barrett, a professor at St. John’s University, supplies a steady fix of Jackson’s speeches, letters, and other writings, carefully attuned to the calendar or to current events. Today, of course, marks some heady victories for the Democrats. Arlen Specter, who launched his political career as a Democrat, has abandoned the Republican Party and embraced the Democrats once more. Specter’s move, coupled with the apparent victory of Al Franken in Minnesota, moves the Democrats to a filibuster-breaking 60-vote majority in the Senate. And a new ABC-Washington Post poll shows that only 21 percent of respondents self-identify as Republicans, a recent low-water mark for the G.O.P.

Let the Democrats celebrate, but then let them get sober about their responsibilities. Jackson puts this very well in a speech in 1936, after a Democratic wave swept America, New York, and even the normally very Republican city of Jamestown:

I am not so confident that the Republican Party is dead. Some sixteen million voters who remained loyal even this year is a very respectable political beginning, if properly led, and if it can make up its mind what its principles are to be. It is terribly handicapped in leadership. Its old leaders are discredited and its future leaders are unknown. They have few governorships,
senatorships, or even large mayoralties in which to learn leadership and to develop public standing. Moreover the leadership problem is complicated by the tendency of the seaboard states to want one kind of leadership and the
interior another. So the Republican Party is in a bad way. But it is not dead. Democratic blundering might give it life again.

The fact is that the election leaves us with a tremendous responsibility. It is no time for delusions of grandeur nor for animosities, pettiness or partisanship. Our danger is not from opposition so much as from the lack of it.

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