Woodstock Today and in 2008

The infallible Washington Times reports that up for sale is one of the most famous scenes of infantilism in the 20th century: "Woodstock." Actually what is on the block is the late Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, N.Y., 38 acres of which were used for the 1969 Woodstock music festival that hagiographers of the "1960s Generation" have ever since boomed as a pivotal event in American history. Such rock singers as Jimi Hendrix and Richie Havens got together before a stupefied crowd of 500,000 eternal children to sing of peace, freedom and mind-numbing substances, even the feeble of which have now been shown to be extremely deleterious to intellect and spirit. Better it would be to inhale Marlboros than to fool with the proscribed substances that eventually killed or demented many of the singers and attendees in that famous field.

As for "peace and freedom," wars have continued and the specific war that the troubadours of Woodstock had in mind ended only when our Democratic-controlled Congress broke an American pledge to send support to embattled South Vietnamese forces. The North Vietnamese Communists beat them. Even today, 38 years after Woodstock, there is no freedom in Vietnam. In fact, the only areas of the world that have been liberated since 1969 have been liberated by pressure from the American government and, in some instances, the valor of our splendid military. Drunk and disorderly rockers never pacified any region I know of, and many have lived irritable and belligerent lives, leaving children and other loved ones in a hell of a mess.

Twenty or so years after Woodstock, I was invited to appear with participants from the Woodstock revels to recall what it was all like for a network TV show called, as I recall, "Summer Sunday USA." I went along with my friend, the writer Roger Kaplan, who years before had been an SDS radical but was by then a contented supporter of Ronald Reagan. The show’s producers recognized that I had not participated in Woodstock but was rather a critic of that 1969 absurdity. I was a conservative member of the 1960s generation and might be expected to provide balance to the left-wingers’ reveries.

On a stage with — among other nostalgists — an ex-Black Panther and William Kunstler, the radical lawyer, I elicited shock by saying that all the left-wing rockers of the 1960s generation had ever produced "was an increase in petty crime and a spike in drug addiction and venereal disease." My fellow panel members were shocked but not particularly effective in rebuttal.

One of the reasons for their weak rebuttal was that I was right and they were wrong in their melancholy boasts about that great summertime event of so many years ago. Another reason was that most of my colleagues had been downing matutinal beers as they blubbered (in what passed for the greenroom before the show) about their great days. And finally, they were all pretty much over the hill and quietly selling out to what they once called "the Establishment." My ex-Black Panther colleague was morose because the company planning to publish his book of down-home barbecue recipes was insisting that the recipes contain lower-salt contents. I am not joking. And Kunstler was his usual deceitful self. After our show, he wrote a letter to the editor of a major newspaper dismissing my criticism and adding that I had arrived at the show in a typical right-wing conveyance, a limousine. Actually we all probably arrived in limousines. The network provided the cars for the long trip to Woodstock from Manhattan.

As I have been noting of late, the aging 1960s generation — divided as it has always been by its left wing and right wing — is now facing its political swan song. The Republicans and the Democrats probably will nominate members of this generation to battle in 2008 one more time. During the years since 1980, when President Reagan introduced the young 1960s conservatives and their policies into government, the presidency has shifted pretty much back (to the Clintons) and forth (to the Bush administration). Now the face-off is on again, probably with Hillary opposing Rudy. It will be a bitter campaign with many interesting aspects. My favorite is this: Hillary and the 1960s left-wingers have had to shift their politics to the middle. Rudy and the 1960s right-wingers have not had to shift their politics much at all. From the Reagan administration on, the middle has been created by modern American conservatism. Hillary and her 1960s cohorts call us "the extreme right," even as she adjusts her politics to appear more like ours. That brings to mind another characteristic of the 1960s left wing: Its members always have been phonies.