What is it in the air this spring that is so familiar? There is a war abroad, and the bien pensants are agitating feverishly for a pullout. There is a Republican in the White House, reviled by the bien pensants and under heavy siege. Former aides to the president are going over to the other side, as an energetic Democratic majority on Capitol Hill ferrets out scandals even where there is only faux pas. Demonstrations against the war are underway, and there is talk of impeachment from the agitated idealists on the left.
To those of us familiar with the 1960s generation, this is the late 1960s and early 1970s all over again. In fact, many of the same dramatis personae who howled against the war and the embattled White House in the late 1960s are leading the pack again today. They are 40 years older, wider in the midsection and grayer if not glabrous — but they are as indignant as they were back in the good old days when they were wearing bellbottomed-pants, abstaining from deodorant and dreaming of the perfect commune — perhaps one with a genuine Indian mystic seated in his underpants.
Ah, yes, the Yippies’ Jerry Rubin is no longer with them. He perished after jaywalking across Wilshire Boulevard after becoming an “entrepreneur.” And the Yippies’ other co-founder, Abbie Hoffman, also has had his obituary filed. After years on the lam for a drug trafficking charge (entrepreneurship fetched him too) he committed suicide in 1989. Yet other young idealists from the Summer of Love and the campus demonstrations are among the leading personages of the “spring of 2007.” The Clintons, Dr. Howard Dean, al-Gore and Jean-Francois Kerry, all played their roles in the late 1960s agitations, and here they are today.
It is surprising to me that so little today is made of the fact that the dominant figures in the Democratic Party are members of the 1960s generation. No generation in the 20th century was celebrated as extravagantly as the 1960s generation. The Clintons, Dean, Gore and Kerry were prime specimens of the left-wing of that generation. On this there is very little dispute. Just the other day the Washington Post ran a long piece chronicling Hillary Clinton’s work as an intellectual acolyte of the radical left-wing agitator Saul Alinsky. Yet oddly the aforementioned Democrats’ roots in the 1960s generation of pot and protest are never mentioned. Nor, for that matter, are the Bush White House’s origins in the 1960s conservative youth movement mentioned. George W. Bush was no college activist in the 1960s, but Karl Rove was. I remember him. Moreover, most of the conservative ideas of the Bush administration were taking shape in the 1960s.
So, perhaps it is not surprising that the squabbles of the “spring of 2007” are very reminiscent of the squabbles of the late 1960s. The cast of characters is similar. And the 2008 election is shaping up to be of historic import: one final battle between the young left of the late 1960s and the decade’s young right. It will be a battle to lay claim to the identity of an entire generation. Why is this so rarely remarked on? Only two national commentators whom I know of have mentioned it. The Washington Post’s veteran columnist David Broder adumbrated the clash in commenting on the Bush-Kerry match up of 2004, and Rush Limbaugh noted the intragenerational rivalry a week or so ago. Given that the 1960s was such a momentous generation and that the senior positions in media and academe are populated by 1960s youth, one would expect more comment on the impending intragenerational face-off.
Yet these aging 1960s youth in media and academe might dimly perceive that their side of the generation was a bust. The intellectual positions they proclaimed are now passe. Socialism and “alienation” are museum pieces from a bygone era. The Clintons and their co-generationists have quietly abjured the values of their glorious past. They have moved to the right while we 1960s conservatives remain steadfast to our roots and see free markets and traditional conceptions of society observed widely. The Clinton presidential legacy is one of disgrace, and within the Democratic ranks today’s “youth rebellion” is rebelling against the Clintons. Barack Obama and his supporters believe their time is at hand. As I say, there is something familiar in the air this spring.