Wednesday, October 15, 2008

THE END OF THE SIXTIES

For forty years, our national elections have been referendums on 1968. The first campaign against 1968 began in 1968, when Richard Nixon exploited fears of urban riots, countercultural love fests, and campus disorder to win the hearts and minds of the Silent Majority. Nixon ramped up the efforts in 1972, when he managed to paint relatively strait-laced George McGovern as the candidate of acid, amnesty, and abortion. In 1976, both Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford ran against the 1960s. And in 1980, Ronald Reagan promised to make America great again by rolling the clock back to the antediluvian 1950s.

As the 1960s grew more distant, the period remained a useful political foil. George H.W. Bush promised to undo the "Vietnam syndrome," and marketed the Persian Gulf war, complete with its careful stage-management of news reporting from the battlefront, as the anti-Vietnam War. In 1992 and 1996, Republicans lambasted the moderate Bill Clinton as a "counterculture McGovernik" who joined anti-American protests, smoked pot, and lived the Dionysian life of the love-ins right up through Gennifer and Monica. Even Al Gore and John Kerry, both of whom actually served in the military during the Vietnam War, faced accusations of 60s-ish treason, despite the fact that their Republican opponent and his running mate both dodged the draft and avoided service in the quagmire of Southeast Asia.

This year, the Republicans have once again played the Sixties card--in fact they has played the whole Sixties deck. Remember McCain's advertisement "Love," which introduced McCain's love of country motif with stark contrasts between hippies and the captive Vietnam veteran? Remember McCain's humorous jibe about "being a little tied up" when Woodstock happened? And now it's all Ayers all the time. Fox has become the Weathermen Channel.

McCain's evocation of the "bad 1960s" has utterly failed. For one, a rapidly dwindling segment of the population was even sentient during the Summer of Love. Think about this: graduates of the class of 1968 are 62 years old. McCain's reprisal of the debates of the 1960s might still be meaningful to the population of aging boomers, but for younger voters (especially from my age on downward), the 60s are history, not memory. The McCain campaign's obsession with the Weather Underground, a group about which few Americans know anything anymore, is a reminder of the Republican candidate's age. Only the wingnuts can (dangerously) envision Barack Obama plotting to blow up the Pentagon or holding up a Brinks armored car. The association is preposterous.

Voters, even those with a strong sense of history, are more concerned with the here and now. And those without a strong sense of history have been won over by a campaign that is talkin' about their generation. The 1960s, my friends, are over.