Gay marriage advocate Beth Robinson, center, holds back tears following the passage of a gay marriage bill in Vermont. The state became the fourth to legalize gay marriage last Tuesday. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
It sometimes seems as though American domestic political history is one long conflict between the guardians of tradition and the forces of progress. The controversies change, but the essence of the battle remains the same, whether the contestants are arguing over slavery, women's suffrage, Jim Crow, or abortion rights.
If you were watching the leaders of the G-20 nations speak to the world at their recently concluded summit in London, you might have noticed something familiar. Something modern yet comforting, authoritative without being stern, confident but not showy. I'm not talking about President Barack Obama or any of the other assembled presidents and prime ministers. I'm talking about a typeface. More than a few people probably said what I did when they looked at the G-20 logo: “Isn’t that Barack Obama’s font?”
On Jan. 25, 1961, the dashing new president of the United States delivered the first presidential press conference to be televised live. Amid numerous questions about tensions with the Soviet Union and upcoming domestic legislation came this query: "Mr. President, there has been some apprehension about the instantaneous broadcasts of presidential press conferences such as this one, and the contention being that an inadvertent statement is no longer correctible, as in the old days, could possibly cause some grave consequences. Do you feel that there is any risk or could you give us some thought on that?"
To realize just how bad things have gotten in the newspaper industry, consider the following list of casualties: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ended its print edition; it now exists only on the Web. The Rocky Mountain News shut its doors completely (the paper's Web site sits frozen in its Feb. 27 version, like a watch that stopped at the moment of a nuclear explosion). The parent company of The Philadelphia Inquirer filed for bankruptcy. In a last-ditch bid to keep their paper from folding, workers at The San Francisco Chronicle accepted a painful new contract that could cut the newsroom staff by a third. All these events occurred just in the last month.
A quarter-century ago, political observers marveled at a new phenomenon: an enormous wave of conservative young people. Instead of tuning in, turning on, and dropping out, they were donning polo shirts, keeping their hair cut short, and waxing eloquent on the wonders of the free market. Their exemplar was Alex P. Keaton, the hero of the television show Family Ties, whose ex-hippie parents shook their heads at their son's affection for Ronald Reagan. The series ran from 1982 to 1989; in its finale, Alex leaves home to take a job on Wall Street.