For many of us white middle, upper middle and upper class boomers who come of age in the years around 1968 it was the best of times. Rock and Roll was on the airwaves, marijuana was in the air and we invented sex. Our older brothers and sisters showed it was possible to change the laws concerning civil rights through activism and peaceful protest. Now it was our turn and we chose the war in Vietnam.
Don Oral | July 23, 2018
e took to the streets and campuses. We pushed one president to not seek reelection and drove another to take desperate acts that ultimately led to his resignation. We won a skirmish and thought we changed the world.
However, our tactics rendered our victories Pyrrhic at best. We waved the North Vietnamese flag. We spit at the returning conscripted soldiers (we didn’t have to go because we had our deferments and bone spurs). We alienated the great swath of working class and Middle Americans we claimed to be fighting for, mocking them as just so many Archie Bunkers. Our self-righteous attitudes and tactics alienated many of our intellectual equals on campus turning them into today’s godfathers and mothers of the Nativist and Nationalist right.
In 1968 the New Deal and Great Society were accepted dogma by both Democrats and Republicans. Yes the left wanted to expand the programs and right wanted to contract them but only the “lunatic fringes” wanted to eliminate them entirely.
We may have driven Johnson and Nixon from office but we got Regan in return. The worst part of Regan’s presidency was that it made it safe to be reactionary again. Liberalism became a bad word. Greed was good and unions were bad. Whites were victims and Blacks were thugs and welfare queens. Hispanics were wetbacks, except for Cubans who were poor victims of Communism. Reactionary billionaires who used to throw a couple of bucks to fringe groups began to fund them in earnest.
Which brings us to 2018. We are once again taking to the streets. This can be good. If injustice is publicized enough the middle, malleable, third of American voters can be brought on board. Unfortunately we are beginning to make the same mistakes of 1968. In particular I am talking about the call for the elimination of ICE. To the average =–person you are saying open the boarders to terrorists and drug dealers. If that’s what you want, be honest and say so. If what you want is a more humane policy for those seeking asylum and refugees, you want to reform ICE or replace it with a better organization. Say that. True, reform is not as sexy as elimination and Americans don’t do well with nuance, but honesty is still the best policy.
The US has always been a nation divided in three. During the American Revolution it was divided between Revolutionaries, Loyalists and Whatever. During the Civil War it was Abolitionists, Slaveholders and Whatever. After the Depression it was Liberals, Conservatives and Whatever. Now it is Progressives, Reactionaries and Whatever. If we want lasting change and to win the war, not just the battle, we have to win over the Whatever. We won’t do it by smugly pontificating from our comfortable, privileged perches. We won’t do it by shouting alienating slogans in their faces. We can do it by keeping up the pressure on our elected. We can do it by publicizing the problems and proposing doable, perhaps even incremental, solutions. Most of all we can do it by taking a page out of Lee Atwater’s and Karl Rove’s playbooks and organize and elect locally. It may take more time, but the changes will be longer lasting and more equitable.
Don is a retired bureaucrat who has lived in Cape May County for over six years. He’s not really on social media and doesn’t particularly want to be found. But he does want to be heard.