In the beautiful Berkshire mountains, Williams College in 1968 was physically far removed from the social and political turmoil of cities along the East Coast. But the liberal arts school was a hotbed in the battle for ideas.
The college is tucked away in a valley in the midst of the peaceful hills and mountains of northwestern Massachussetts. Coming from the flat terrain of central Indiana, I loved looking at those mountains-big chunks of earth rising up off the land, covered by trees, waiting to be explored.
Started as a Christian college in the late 1700s, Williams had become a top-tier school academically, with the typical liberal bias of that league. Its Christian origins had long been forgotten.
The school attracted the best and the brightest, mostly from the East Coast, to a small community called Williamstown. Perhaps to diversify, they allowed some of us from the Midwest. I had to work very hard to get an A or B in political science and history classes, while some of the top students breezed by without much study. Coming from an Indiana-based journalism family, I was vaguely familiar with politics, but in high school I read the sports pages first. Williams in 1968 was a great place to learn much more. The issues of race and the Vietnam War dominated campus debates, and the debates were everywhere, in the dorms, the eating places, the school newspaper, and in the classroom.
I plunged into journalism, working for the school newspaper and becoming what was called a "stringer" for about five other newspapers, including The New York Times. The protests and debates on campus provided a steady stream of stories to write, and a $5 check for a story seemed quite lucrative compared to the $2 lawn mowing and golf caddying jobs I had in high school.
The war debate was tilted very strongly to the left, favoring withdrawal ASAP from Vietnam. One faculty member, political scientist Fred Greene, had worked in the State Department and tried to defend and explain the rationale for the policies of President Lyndon Johnson, but he was rare. Yet debates were usually polite, seldom personal and nasty.
The journalism jobs gave me a fascinating chance to listen to anti-war perspective. Back home I could hear the anti-communist side in more conservative Indiana on vacations or in the summer.
The college had taken up the race issue with recruitment of African-American students from East Coast cities. That provided some of the best part of my education, as I listened to black student protesters trying to find their identity at a predominantly white college. For me as a reporter for the college newspaper, and correspondent for regional newspapers, the protests kept me busy filing -stories, interviewing students. Books like The Autobiography of Malcolm X helped me understand the sense of grievance and bitterness that some of the students felt.
I could not see the big picture, but Williams' approach to race was part of a larger national repentance for the wrongs of slavery and segregation, an attempt to bring blacks into the mainstream of American life. Motivated in many ways by a Christian heritage, the repentance had been inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.'s preaching and the civil-rights movement. The word repentance was not used that I can recall, but the concept lay behind the well-intentioned efforts to bring blacks into the mainstream through a top college education.
I became close friends with an African-American roommate, Drew Hatcher. His father had been in the Kennedy administration, an assistant press secretary, and somehow any difference in our backgrounds or politics didn't affect our friendship. Even today, when I see him at the Justice Department, where he works as a lawyer, our conversations pick up on the latest politics or personal developments with our children. We seem to slide right back into those college bull sessions, decades later.
There was an idealism in 1968 at Williams, both in the anti-war movement and the repentance over race. But sadly the idealism did not have a strong enough foundation to endure. Like so much of America, the college had neglected, slid away from, or ignored its historic Christian roots in favor of a vague Enlightenment-based humanism. The liberal sentiments seemed noble and idealistic in the midst of a beautiful campus, surrounded by mountains. But they were falling prey to what the prophet Jeremiah warned about, trusting in man and allowing the heart to depart from the Lord. Something was missing-Christian faith and a conscious attempt to search the Scriptures for wisdom. The Scriptures had been subjected to a higher critical review in religion and were no longer trustworthy or infallible.
In the Ivy League schools, the idealism took silly turns, flattering student egos. The student protests at Columbia University in New York City took a rougher, uglier turn, with the trashing of administration buildings. Archibald Cox of Harvard Law School was called in to advise, later becoming famous as the Watergate prosecutor. Of the student body of 1968, he explained: "The present generation of young people in our universities are the best informed, the most intelligent and the most idealistic this country has ever known." Maybe he was right in some technical academic sense, measured by standardized tests, but we were not being instructed enough in what the Bible calls wisdom, understanding, prudence, and knowledge.
My 79-year-old grandfather, Eugene C. Pulliam, was a conservative Arizona-based newspaper publisher and remembered his own youthful idealism as a Teddy Roosevelt lover. He cautioned me in letters about thinking my generation was something special: "There is very, very little difference in the actual performance of one generation after the other, except that in the last 50 years each succeeding generation has been better educated than the previous one," he scolded me in one letter. "I think you are too much inclined to discount the things your parents believe in and the things they do. You shouldn't allow yourself to come to the conclusion that your father's generation or my generation weren't worth a damn and that it is up to your generation to save the world. We didn't save the world and you are not going to save the world."
Williams, like so many schools, was dropping virtually all the old rules, throwing out the traditional notion of the college acting in loco parentis or taking the place of parents in regulating the lives of students. The mix of drinking, drugs, and sex did personal damage that we still don't comprehend fully in its sadness and distortion of the way God designed us to live.
Under the old system, yes, the rules were flouted and were tough to enforce. Yet now, as a parent, I think the academically excellent and secular schools made a big error in throwing out the old rules. Christian colleges, however imperfectly they have done it, were right to retain some kind of standards of expectations about student life.
More quietly in the late 1960s, at Williams and other schools, an -alternative was emerging -a thoughtful and challenging Christian faith.
Francis Schaeffer's first book, The God Who Is There, published in 1968, was based on his Wheaton College lectures a few years earlier. It was the start of a series of books and a movement that helped many of us rethink what we had been learning in secular educational circles. Schaeffer was corresponding with inquirers, hoping to see some come to salvation in Christ and helping others learn how to grow in Him. He became known as a deep-thinking defender of the faith. Yet he had a very practical and profound pastoral side expressed in a 1968 letter to a correspondent wondering about Christian faith and prayer: "God is not a machine. I must not see Him as a vending machine into which I put a quarter and get out a candy bar in a purely mechanical fashion. He is personal, and thus in answering prayer He operates on the basis of what He knows is the best and wisest answer to that prayer."
The next year at Williams, a small Christian fellowship started. David Howard of Intervarsity came to campus to tell us about the historic Haystack Monument at Williams. There a few students prayed in a rainstorm in 1806, laying the foundation for the first overseas missionary push from the United States. In 1810 the students helped form the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, with Adoniram Judson and others sent to India with the gospel.
The monument was right there on campus, mentioned probably in a catalogue somewhere. It stood in the midst of pine trees, off the beaten track and forgotten in the way the school had forgotten its Christian heritage.
But the Lord has His way in history of bringing Himself back into the picture. We can ignore Him, and He lets us wander in all kinds of wilderness. Yet in His love, through His death on the cross, He was making His way into some of our personal lives, even as we were hearing the shouts from the left about saving the world from a mistaken war in Vietnam and how all that money should go instead to save American cities. The alternative way of Christ mercifully rescued many of us from a false humanistic hope that never could fulfill its promises.
He came as He had to Elijah. After the strong wind, the earthquake, then the fire, He came whispering with "a still small voice."
Had Richard Nixon listened to Billy Graham and looked for character instead of political advantage in a running mate in 1968, he would have picked Sen. Mark Hatfield as his running mate.
Instead, to balance competing political factions in the Republican Party, Nixon selected Maryland Gov. Spiro Agnew.
Agnew had taken bribes as governor and they caught up with him in Nixon's second term. In 1973, Agnew was indicted and resigned, even as Nixon was under siege for the Watergate scandal.
In 1968 Nixon was making his comeback, having lost the presidential race in 1960 to John Kennedy, and then a race for governor of California in 1962. Normally such losses leave a candidate without a future. But Nixon moved to New York City and became the party's workhorse after the devastating Barry Goldwater defeat in 1964. Nixon campaigned for Republicans in their 1966 mid-term comeback year, when Hatfield also won his Senate seat. Nixon barely took the nomination in 1968 by beating out the conservative California Gov. Ronald Reagan and the liberal New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.
The Republicans had strong left, right, and middle wings, and Nixon was in that middle. On his vice presidential list he had liberal options like New York City Mayor John Lindsay and Sen. Hatfield of Oregon, who opposed the war in Vietnam. On the right was Gov. Reagan. Agnew was considered a moderate, along with Massachussetts Gov. John Volpe.
It may be difficult to imagine now, but in 1968 evangelical Christians were not a political force in either party. Hatfield was the rare evangelical Christian in national leadership.
Evangelist Billy Graham did not give Nixon much political advice, but Nixon invited Graham to a vice presidential discussion meeting at the Miami convention. "It's part of history," Nixon told Graham, who was reluctant to go so deep into politics but knew Hatfield's Christian faith was needed in the White House. In the meeting, according to biographer William Martin writing in A Prophet with Honor, Graham summed up Hatfield's qualifications this way: "He's a great Christian leader. He's almost a clergyman. He's been an educator and has taken a more liberal stance on most issues than you, and I think the ticket needs that kind of balance."
Nixon took Graham's suggestion seriously but settled on Agnew almost by a process of elimination. The liberal wing objected to conservative candidates, and the conservatives objected to the liberal candidates. Yet the Nixon circle did not know Agnew very well-and paid for it.
What if Nixon had picked Hatfield? His faith in Christ and personal integrity opened doors of influence in Congress.
The Oregonian could have been a lone voice for integrity in an administration wrapped up in the crude and corrupt tactics that led to the Watergate scandal. He also would have been Nixon's successor when Nixon resigned in 1974.