The Current Crisis

Sixties to the Finish

So what really explains the rancor arising in this election year?

By 3.24.04

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WASHINGTON -- I do not know what you thought when you heard that Senator John François Kerry was overheard in a scrum of Chicago blue-collar workers referring to unnamed politicians as "crooked" and "lying." I thought he was referring to the Clintons. What is more, I thought he was being complimentary.

The Clintons have, indeed, been very artful in all their transgressions. Even when they get caught they wriggle out of it, save for the time that Bill got impeached and found in contempt of court and lost his license to practice law. Actually Bill has never really practiced law. He taught law briefly, but mostly he breaks the law. Hillary has been even more artful in breaking the law, though she too has suffered blemishes on her otherwise exemplary record of crookedness and lying. You might recall that the last Independent Counsel to ponder her 1990s appearances under oath deposited in his final report the finding that Hillary's sworn testimony was "factually inaccurate." Yes, "factually inaccurate," but she is a senator today even as Teddy Kennedy is a senator, and Robert Torricelli was a senator.

The current wisdom swirling around Campaign 2004 is that it is going to be very bitter. Both sides, the pundits tell us, are going to indulge in "negative" ads and eye gouging. The explanation for this incendiary turn of events is that the Democrats believe our debonair president stole the 2000 election. There has to be more to it than that. Republicans believed that the 1960 presidential election was stolen from them and by an equally debonair aspirant. The 1964 election did not turn out to be a particularly "bitter" election -- though I am sure surviving Goldwaterites are still hurt that the Lyndon Johnson accused his opponent, Barry Goldwater, of plotting to get us into war in Southeast Asia.

So what really explains the rancor arising in this election year? Why is it that the Democrats cannot get over their hurt feelings about the final tally in the Sunshine State? My explanation is counseled by the historic record. The two branches of the most political generation of the twentieth century, the 1960s generation, are now in the fullness of middle age. They were on opposite sides of the barricades in 1968 and so they are today -- though the barricades have been replaced by party lines. John François Kerry, the Clintons, Dr. Howard Dean and other leading Democrats were Coat and Tie Radicals in 1968, radicals adhering to a leftist agenda while favoring the ambiguity of a coat and tie to preserve what Bill Clinton famously called "political viability." In 1968, George W. Bush and many of his cabinet members were Penny-Loafer Conservatives. They wanted nothing to do with protests and communes.

Immediately after the 1960s and throughout the 1970s, during which 1960s themes resonated, the contemporary wisdom held that 1960s youth culture was radical. Actually it was split. In 1972 the youth vote went against the radical George McGovern and for President Nixon. Support for the Vietnam War endured almost to the end. While protesting youth such as Kerry and the Clintons were smiled upon by the media despite the social pathologies that attended their lifestyle, for instance drugs and sexually transmitted diseases, the young conservatives developed their own distinctive point of view.

Today's enthusiasm for free markets, globalism, strong defense, and some semblance of traditional values is championed by those of us who opposed the radicals of the 1960s. In the 1960s and 1970s while we were reading Milton Friedman and the Founding Fathers, many members of today's leadership in the Democratic Party were reading Saul Alinsky, Paul Goodman, and condensations of Marx and Engels. The mentors of their radical youth are all passé, but there is no evidence that the Clintons and Kerry's have learned that in their youth they were wrong and we were right.

Thus Kerry has brought up Vietnam all over again, glossing over the truly brutal protest he engaged in as a leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He even has the chutzpah to remonstrate against the FBI's surveillance of him in those days, ignoring his group's many acts of civil disobedience (occasionally criminal disobedience) in time of war. Hillary Clinton, in what she termed a "major policy" speech at the Mayflower Hotel unveiled a vision of the Nanny State that was vintage 1968. The battle lines of the 1960s are still in place.

The issues, for the most part, remain. Kerry and the Clintons are the critics of American power and proponents of social engineering and radical reforms. Bush is the defender of American national interests and traditional values. The 2004 election will be fought by two branches of a historic generation hoping to claim the identity of that generation for themselves and the federal government for their own very different public policies. My candidate is the old Penny Loafer Conservative, George W. Bush, and frankly I find it amusing that when I was reading Friedman back in the late 1960s he apparently was reading Esquire's Handbook for Hosts. We conservatives have always been a very diverse group.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.