When the president went from “we must” to “will we?”

Former President Johnson speechwriter Harry McPherson died February 16.

An insightful man, he was. Listen to him talk about how the changing social environment of the 1960s caused a change in the rhetoric, too:

In the mid-1960s, he told an interviewer, “I wrote and offered sentences in the imperative, ‘We must.’ They were, the President addressing the nation saying, ‘We must eradicate poverty. We must change the conditions under which people are living. We must make it possible for little kids to get a good education. We must change the infant mortality rate in this country.’ … and by 1966 and ’67 … I think driven in part by the riots and the … and wonder and anger that they caused, driven in part by the war, by budget crunches … and perhaps … just a general change in attitude, you were, you felt lucky if you said, ah, if you had the President saying, ‘Will we stop this forward march? Will we give up when children still can’t read,’ and so on.”

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