It was 1968. I was over at my friend Lorraine’s apartment in lower Manhattan when two old friends of hers arrived, a couple, blowing through the door with the dust of the road and the chill of winter clinging to them, the very image of the thirsty boots radical travelers of the era. They slumped wearily to the floor and gratefully accepted a joint and beer.
“So how was it?” Lorraine asked them. The couple had just come from a national conference of student politicos, some “New Mobe” convocation or other.
“They’re Communists,” the young man sighed. “They’re all Communists.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
It was 1968. Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were dead, the march on Washington seemed long ago in the past. Nixon had won election, and a folk singer in Greenwich Village got laughs by intoning a dirge with the words, “The Cap-ri-corns are tak-ing ov-er…” It was 1968, the year — we are now being told — of Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” to capture the votes of white racists in the South, the roots of the modern Republican Party, the Republican Party that has just had “its covers pulled,” in the words of Slate‘s Will Saletan, speaking on NPR’s “The Connection” — had its covers pulled, that is, by Trent Lott’s stupid remarks at Strom Thurmond’s birthday party. The Republicans always appealed to racists.
“He just embarrassed (the Republicans) by saying in Washington what they do on the back roads every day,” said the old maestro race-monger himself, Bill Clinton, last week. “How do they think they got a majority in the South anyway?” he said. “They try to suppress black voting, they ran on the Confederate flag in Georgia and South Carolina, and from top to bottom the Republicans supported it.”
Eleanor Clift wrote, in Newsweek online, “With one stupid and thoughtless attempt at humor, Lott stripped away the carefully constructed facade the Bush team erected at the GOP convention in 2000 and revealed the party’s true colors.”
Jim Hoagland, writing in the Washington Post, put it this way: “Lott has unlocked the door to the attic that contains a family secret no one is ever supposed to acknowledge. The priority for many of the Republicans calling for Lott’s leadership scalp is to get that door locked again, and fast.…The roots and electoral core of the highly successful post-1960 Republican Party lie in the South’s country-club mix of soft racism and self-enrichment.”
One wonders what is wrong with getting rich, but never mind. This is now the party line. Let us remember. Let us remember why Democrats are so eternally comfortable with a party line.
It was 1968. Remember that, unsparingly. Washington, D.C. was consumed by a riot that torched 1,000 buildings and killed 12 people — a riot instigated by Stokely Carmichael. Downtown Trenton was destroyed in racial violence. The Democratic convention exploded in street violence, deliberately planned and provoked. The country was being overrun with long-haired dope-smoking maggot-infested hippies (to quote Rush Limbaugh, and I was one of them, so I ought to know), and if the characterization was not exactly spot-on, that’s the way it looked to most of America. The French student riots took place in Paris the same year, and the war in Vietnam had reached a peak of violence with the Tet Offensive.
The year 1968 may mark the beginning of the shift of Southern voters to the Republican Party, but it marks as well the roots of the modern Democratic Party. The radicals of 1968 sought deliberately to cloak themselves in the saintliness of the civil rights movement, a movement that was largely over by that time (the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act having passed in 1964 and 1965). But look at those radicals the way most of the country saw them at the time. They had blown the last normal Democrat, Hubert Humphrey, out of the water. (Even at that, 1968 was a close Presidential election.) All that was left was smoke and destruction, and the ugly face of a movement that looked like it wanted to destroy America.
It looked that way because that’s what it was. The modern Democratic Party was born in blood, profanity, filth, riot, and flame. If a narrow majority of the country, including much of the South, began to vote more regularly for Republicans starting in 1968, it had less to do with race than with the widely held, and accurate, perception that Democrats had allied themselves with a vicious fringe movement that hated the country. And, as my thirsty boots acquaintances had found out to their disillusionment, that fringe movement had been thoroughly infiltrated by Communists — something known not only to the FBI, but by every local police department that had had to deal with the strident street warriors of the era.
That was 1968. In that year, the ruffians were still outside the tents. By 1972, they had taken over the party of Jefferson, Jackson and FDR. The voters repudiated them 49 states to one. But the Democrats have embraced the nihilism of the sixties ever since, one way or the other.
Unfortunately, you can’t destroy a culture without somebody paying for it. Who pays when the Democrats smash up equal opportunity and replace it with a racial spoils system? African-Americans do.
Yes, Trent Lott had to resign as majority leader. We Republicans were the first to say so, not because we want to bury racial issues, but because we want to confront them We own the moral high ground here. It is we, not Democrats, who truly remember the legacy of 1968. That year marked the beginning, not of a Southern strategy, but of a subversive one.