The Nation's Pulse

The Return of SDS

A new generation of spoiled malcontents will convene in Chicago next week.

By 7.27.06

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In the Sixties, if truth be told, a lot of students joined the anti-war movement for two fundamental reasons: that's where one found the best drugs and the hottest hippie chicks. How else were nerdy, unathletic upper middle class guys going to score? Let's face it, even today -- though Conservatism has come a long way -- not many girls get turned on by a Dick Cheney black light poster.

Patrick Korte wasn't born till midway through the Reagan Administration, but his sudden notoriety is proof that some things never change. Korte is one of those earnest upper middle class high school kids who hopes girls will make out with him if he plays the political radical in the Che Guevara T-shirt. Late last year Korte, a senior at Connecticut's tony Stonington High School, organized a group called "World Can't Wait: Drive Out The Bush Regime," but apparently the name was too dorky even for Stonington High School girls. So Korte did what comes natural to high school students. He plagiarized a few lines from an old history book.

Korte judged it would be cool to resurrect the moribund Students for a Democrat Society, the Sixties anti-establishment movement that in 1969 splintered into Maoist and terrorist factions, before ultimately self-destructing. The Connecticut teen styles himself as the reincarnation of SDS founder Tom Hayden (I know, he only seems dead) sans the movie star ex-wife. No slouch when it comes to academics, Korte has expertly memorized all the Left's usual cliches and gripes: U.S. imperialism, racism, sexism, poor education in the inner cities, pollution, homophobia, the prison-industrial complex, etc., etc. Naturally Korte and his new/old organization have no original ideas to resolve these issues, just the conventional strategy of attacking the current "authoritarian" administration. And I do mean "attack." For a peacenick Patrick Korte sounds an awful lot like a Marine sergeant in Anbar Province. He can scarcely open his mouth without spitting out the words "enemy," "militancy," "fight," "combat," "sink," "tearing down."

Indeed, tearing down the pillars of the "Old Society" is the operative cliche in the new SDS textbook. Like their socialist forebears, today's SDS'ers despise everything about America past and present. By past, I mean they object to the form of representative democracy the founders established in order to check the passions and manias of the mob. Worse yet is our system of free market capitalism. Korte and his comrades view the U.S. as a racist, sexist oligarchy run by corporations with imperial designs, particularly on Middle East oil. Fortunately they have all the answers, such as how to end poverty, ignorance and war. No, not by volunteering to teach English in the inner cities, but by organizing in the communities and in the streets, and through demonstrations and militancy. So far that militancy has consisted of picketing Wal-Mart.

ONE CAN DREAM. And sometimes, alone at night, Patrick Korte fantasizes about mass mobilizations that shut down entire cities and "cause the war machine to stop functioning on the military, political and economic level." He doesn't want to rock the boat, he tells an interviewer, he wants to sink the motherf-----! Oh, dear, Junior's been reading the Al Qaeda playbook again.

Rather than dull representative democracy, Korte would like to see his New America adopt participatory democracy. News flash, America already has participatory democracy. It's called voting. It's called running for the local school board, city council and zoning board of appeals. Sorry that's not as sexy as pretending to be a radical Marxist. Local library board members don't often get to takeover college campuses and they seldom publish cool underground magazines and spend all day smoking pot in their coed dorms. On the upside, you can see to it that your local branch carries the Daily Worker and that its shelves are well stocked with the complete works of Noam Chomsky.

The SDS did play a big role in the Sixties and America's subsequent moral, social and intellectual decline. (I suspect it was responsible for disco, too, though I can't prove it.) It took the U.S. decades to recover from that hangover, but thanks to Ronald Reagan's hair of the dog we survived. So no matter how unpopular the war in Iraq, it is doubtful that Americans (red state Americans, anyway) are going to put up with any more of SDS's shenanigans.

Patrick Korte plans to be in Chicago August 4-7 hosting the first SDS Convention in 37 years. Some of the old veterans will be there, captivating their younger audiences with tales of their heroic exploits of avoiding service in Vietnam. There'll be educational workshops and long mornings of vapid forums doubtless culminating with some idiotic demonstrations against the war. Hopefully the Chicago cops will be there too.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.