DECEMBER 30, 1960
NEW YORK—Sen. Mike Mansfield of Montana not long ago stated that in his opinion it was absolutely essential to change our national convention system and our election procedures. He would do away with the Electoral College and have a President chosen by popular vote.
But the most important thing he suggested was to shorten the campaign and shorten the period between Election Day and the time the new President takes office.
In quieter days throughout the world this did not seem very important, but as we look around today and realize that things happen almost overnight and that any action taken by an administration in power involves the succeeding administration, we realize how much more complicated it is today for a government to function in that period between election and inauguration. Those holding office are naturally sensitive to their waning period of responsiblity and the President-elect and his nominess for various positions are also watching with an eagle eye whatever is being done, for they must be deeply concerned as to what they will have to face both in domestic and international affairs on taking office.
There are places in the world today that are even more touchy than most of us quite understand when we read our newspapers. We know, for instance, that Laos is a threatening situation. We are not very sure why, and Laos seems very far away, but if we read carefully we sense that somehow our government is almost as much involved in Laos as it is in Cuba.
The reason, of course, is that Laos is as close or closer to Communist China as the United States is to Cuba. And we still remember the Korean War and that it was our inability to believe that Communist China would enter that conflict which led us to make unwise moves and brought Chinese aid to the North Koreans. It caused us some of our most humiliating experiences and more anxiety than we had at any other period of the war.
A new administration coming into office—especially one of the opposition party—inherits situations from the outgoing administration. And though they are not always as dangerous or as delicate as some problems that plague us today, one wishes that Senator Mansfield's suggestions were already implemented. So, we hope they will not be forgotten in the next few months but that at some point he will take them up for more serious consideration and discussion.
I wonder if many other countries face such situations as confront us here on occasion, such as the desire of different groups at different times to censor certain textbooks used in our schools.
In our newspapers this week I read that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People wants to take out of the schools certain of Edgar Allen Poe's stories and Joel Chandler Harris's "Uncle Remus Tales."
It is entirely natural that a minority group should be particularly sensitive, but these are classics—stories that children have read without harm for many, many years. Specific things pointed out, for instance, are of course objectionable, but in the overall picture these things are a part of our history and cannot be expunged if we are really to understand the past and, through the past, the present.
In medieval days there were groups that wanted to get rid of certain ideas and that, of course, led to book-burning. And now in our time groups wanting to censor ideas and history are growing, it seems to me, which makes it imperative that we think out our policy on these questions.
I believe people who are allowed to read freely are better off. They will soon find out if what they read has no longer any particular bearing on the modern world, but it is important to know that this is what once existed. We cannot wipe it out, and if we are improving it will make us more appreciative of the steps forward we have been able to make. If we have not gone forward as rapidly as we should, it will make us understand better where we are failing.
I think if we read not only the classics of the past but our own contemporary literature—and our schools are the place where this can be encouraged—we are bound to find we have an increasingly well-informed people, and this is the greatest safeguard for our nation.