Immigrants at the end of the 1950's, especially if they had grown up under the murderous politics of twentieth-century Europe, found America's two major parties puzzling. Since representatives of both intended to uphold the same Constitution, since the transfer of power from one to the other was invariably peaceful, how were you supposed to tell them apart?
By the early 1960's, a difference of emphasis suggested itself. Republicans, for the most part, focused on the importance of preserving the principles responsible for America's success - the principles of the Founding Fathers. Democrats, increasingly, devoted themselves to making certain that the blessings of those principles were available to, and accessible by all who live here. What those principles represented was not at issue.
By the late 1960's, it was. And it has been, ever since.
We differentiate between Rockefeller Republicans and Reagan Republicans, but neither constituency would dream of doing away with the foundations of this country.
During the second half of the 1960's, America's enemies, foreign and domestic - the ones mentioned in every oath of office - looked for openings. They first found them among those just coming of age. Then they tested the Democratic Party. They found the doors unlocked.
In the course of one short, fateful decade, the Democratic Party of the United States traded its banners of compassion and justice for those of envy and hatred. Its role in righting certain wrongs was replaced by tearing down everything that was right in America. Its ranks began to fill up with growing millions whose discontent was artificially created, and is being artificially fueled all the time.
The human cost has been enormous. Honesty, integrity and decency have all but disappeared from the public conduct of the Democratic Party, and you ask yourself how Democrats who are supposed to have those qualities survive the morning and evening encounters with the bathroom mirror.
The past two weeks produced three highly revealing utterances. First, it was the departing president. Asked by reporters what he might do from now on, Mr. Clinton replied, "I go back to making a living."
Here's the relevant story. Famous composer Zoltán Kodály was the one person in Stalinist Hungary whose position of respect was unchallenged. When a new Secretary arrived to run the Music Academy's communist party organization, he decided to introduce himself to the Master. "What happened to your predecessor?" Kodály inquired. "He went back to his trade," came the response. "What did he do before?" asked Kodály. "He was a hatmaker." "And what did you do before?" Brief silence, then:
Party Secretary: "I always worked in the movement."
Kodály: "So what will you go back to?"
The point is not merely that Mr. Clinton has never actually earned money, but that entirely too many Democrats have similar resumes - persons whose workday has been devoted exclusively to political activism, whose lives have been devoid of ordinary useful human activity. Countless positions in the last administration were filled with such people. The result was the emergence of a commissar class. The result was an upside-down society, meaning that the bottom had risen to the top.
If proof is required for the foregoing, we need only to recall that, during the past eight years, no one resigned from an appointed or elected office either in protest or to accept responsibility. The infection runs so deep as to have induced Democrats held in high esteem by all to endorse unspeakable deeds, rather than distance themselves by doing the honorable thing.
Perhaps the second quote offers a measure of explanation. It comes from Chris Matthews. "We are not quite grown-ups," said Mr. Matthews of his own generation in an NBC interview on Inauguration Day, "we have no respect for office."
Does this explain the unprecedented vandalism and theft in the White House and courtesy airplane, widely reported in the media? Does this explain selling for cash America's national security, America's national sanctuaries, or the privilege of the presidential pardon?
Does this explain why the Democratic Party, though "embarrassed," will not clean house? Does this explain why members of the Congressional Black Caucus - all Democrats - were not censured by their Party following a display of contempt for America as the electoral votes were tallied on January 6?
Does this explain why Senator Joseph Lieberman of that same generation, instead of observing the traditional silence for losing candidates, displays verbal diarrhea on the talk shows? His is the third quote. Referring on ABC-TV's This Week to "the president-elect" the morning after the Inauguration, the host reminded him of the proper title. "I have to get used to that title," Mr. Lieberman countered. Asked whether he recognized President Bush as the legitimate chief executive, he said he would "give him a chance." Am I the only one who finds both these utterances unacceptable?
Lately, we heard a great deal about the peaceful transition of power. Indeed, that, as well as the freedom of movement, is what the Roman-based laws of the European continent have not been able to deliver over the centuries. The man whose running mate Mr. Lieberman was, former Vice President Al Gore, attacked both of these historic American achievements. He arrived on the scene with an assault on the automobile, that ultimate guarantor of free movement; he departed the scene after an all-out attempt to destroy the electoral process.
Many Republicans complain about their party, and for legitimate reasons. But it is the Democratic Party, America's oldest, that has admitted people of clearly anti-American thinking, and adopted patently un-American methods over the past decades. All of us wish the new president the best in his efforts to negotiate bipartisan action. But the political healing he so ardently desires depends on a new and credible commitment by Democrats to America in word and in deed.