“Hey, Hey, LBJ …”

Gary Younge writes in The Guardian,

The joke is not on Lamont or his followers, but on those who brand them insurrectionists. Opposing illegal wars and torture are not radical positions. These are ordinary people, indignant at the “premeditated” deception of their commander-in-chief.

“Pundits” like David Broder and even the usually sensible Jonathan Alter are certain that the Connecticut Insurgency is going to return the Democrats to the bad old days of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern — a syndrome Digby calls “pathological fear of hippies.” And Cokie Roberts made an ass of herself this weekend by shrieking that a win for Lamont tomorrow would pull the Democrats to the Left “to the position from which it traditionally loses.”

Like Dems were doing so well in elections otherwise.

Whatever resemblance the Iraq War has to Vietnam, the home front seems to me to be very different from what it was in the Vietnam era. Back then, even though polls taken during the LBJ and Nixon Administration say most people thought Vietnam was a mistake (54 percent in 1968; 61 percent in 1971), to a 20-something those times felt like generational war; rebellious youth against the war versus the Establishment that supported it

But it wasn’t just about the war then. The antiwar movement, the Black Power movement, and second wave feminism all arose about the same time and got in the face of the status quo. Wrap all that up within the 1960s counterculture, and you get one hell of a blowback. And that blowback was political gold for Nixon, who played it masterfully to win re-election in a landslide in 1972.

Indeed, today’s Right still seems traumatized by the 1960s. Like someday we lefties are going to go on a collective acid flashback and revert to form. We will grow our hair out again and drench ourselves in patchouli oil; we will break into their homes and force them to wear love beads and tie-dye. BWAHAHAHAHAHAH!

But we’re in a very different place today, and it’s not just because of the osteoarthritis. The antiwar and various liberation movements of the 1960s were, in the context of the times, radical challenges to political and social norms across the board; the counterculture was bent on sweeping away the old establishment and creating something entirely new. But although we may have swept away much of the old establishment, what replaced it was not liberal utopia but Reaganism. As Fred Siegel wrote here (scroll down to the essay under the subhead “American History”),

But this new conservatism did not so much win the country over to its perspective as board the empty ship of state vacated by a 1960s liberalism that had self-destructed. Conservatism triumphed because New Deal liberalism was unable to accommodate the new cultural and political demands unleashed by the civil rights revolution, feminism, and the counterculture, all of which was exacerbated by the Kulturkampf over Vietnam.

The irony of this is that radicalism won, after all. The “conservatism” that holds power now has pulled the nation so far to the Right I hardly recognize it any more. The “insurgent” movement, on the other hand, is not revolutionary but counter-reactionary. Now it’s the “establishment” pushing radical cultural change; the “insurgents” are more interested in traditional kitchen-table issues like jobs, Social Security, and health care.

Gary Younge continues,

Some have described it as a struggle for the heart and soul of the Democratic party, but a more accurate portrayal would be a battle to establish whether the party should have a soul at all. It raises not only the question of what does the party stand for apart from office but also whether it is prepared to adopt an agenda that could actually win office. This race could set the tone for the 2008 presidential elections.

You’ve got to wonder what strange times we live in when it’s considered politically perilous to take a position favored by a whopping majority of the voters. Although the war in Iraq is an obvious disaster, and now the entire Middle East is tottering on the edge of catastrophe, somehow it’s centrist to enable this mess. But if one suggests that instead of using “creative chaos” to remake the Middle East we should refocus our attention and resources on more conventional counter-terrorism measures to protect the nation, that person is a radical.

Forty years ago Lyndon Johnson sent troops to Vietnam because he didn’t want to be called “soft on communism.” Today’s Dems are afraid to speak up for moderation and sanity because they’re afraid to be called “peaceniks” or “McCarthyites.” Today’s Dems recall the “lessons” of 1972, but it ain’t 1972 any more.

Update: Martin Peretz rejoices that the peace Democrats are back.

We have been here before. Left-wing Democrats are once again fielding single-issue “peace candidates,” and the one in Connecticut, like several in the 1970s, is a middle-aged patrician, seeking office de haut en bas, and almost entirely because he can.

Then, after recalling “peace Democrats” of earlier times and how they lost elections, Peretz continues,

If Mr. Lieberman goes down, the thought-enforcers of the left will target other centrists as if the center was the locus of a terrible heresy, an emphasis on national strength. Of course, they cannot touch Hillary Clinton, who lists rightward and then leftward so dexterously that she eludes positioning. Not so Mr. Lieberman. He does not camouflage his opinions. He does not play for safety, which is why he is now unsafe.

Hmm, maybe “peace Democrats” lose elections, but it seems being a “war Democrat” is risky, also. What’s a Democrat to do, Mr. Peretz?

Scott Lemieux, emptywheel, BooMan, the Heretik, and Steve M. say all that needs to be said about Peretz.

21 thoughts on ““Hey, Hey, LBJ …”

  1. Cokie was on NPR this morning saying this was like 1970 in connecticut. Sorry cokie but you are full of it. There are 2 generations of voters age 18 to 38 who have no memory of 1970 and don’t care what you say. All they know is what they see now. Those of us old enough to remember also know it ain’t 1970. A Dem president didn’t start this war , declare himself king try to through theocratic meat to his base and depend on Repubs to provide cover. Now that the status quo gang sees what is coming they try to spin it as something it is not because they are trying to save their own face not just Georgie’s .

  2. Times are indeed strange, when it’s the Pentagon and CIA who are more restraining and sober than the civilian “leadership”. This is a frightening reversal of Dr Strangelove – somebody should rewrite and remake this movie given the flip of the political landscape.

    Personally it feels strange to have a liberal outlook and yet to be so conservative about individual issues: please don’t blow up the world, pleasedon’t destroy the Constitution, please please don’t shred social security….etc,etc,etc. It’s weird being conservative trying to reign in the radical nutcases running the country, to bring them down to earth.

    But then, I well remember the title of your post (“Hey, hey, LBJ..”) and what was like when liberalism was in dominance, and how our spirits soared at all the heady possibilities….much as the neocons probably felt when they walked into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue some five years ago. “Gimme that map of Iraq…Now!”

  3. Didn’t many of the hippies grow up to be the David Broder types of America?

    To me it’s a combination of two things, the distancing of what they used to be as foolish childishness, and the paradoxical desire to go back to their own childhood of the 1950s, where as children, they were taught that the US was king and good and the certainty that Daddy would make everything okay. They didn’t have to worry because there was an easy answer for everything.

    But that only works when you’re a child.

    Re Peretz: How is convincing people to support your position without using falacies or force thought enforcement?

  4. Didn’t many of the hippies grow up to be the David Broder types of America?

    If you were really cool you were a freak, not a hippie. “Hippie” was what the straights called us.

    Yeah, I think most of us turned into some variation of our parents. I can’t see David Broder in love beads, though.

  5. One thing that has baffled me a little is this treatment of Lamont as either a) Hippie Evil, or b) the Last Great Hope of the Democrats, when, in plain fact, he is neither. He’s… a rich white man.

    My dad is a stalwart Democrat and a resident of the great state of Connecticut. I went to visit this weekend and the upcoming primary election is unavoidable — not only are there competing yard signs promoting one or the other candidate all over, but Dad received no fewer than 3 phone calls urging him to vote for someone or other while I was there (including an unintentionally-hilarious recorded message from Bill Clinton). And Dad made the I think valid point that the choice between the candidates is not a great one: in Dad’s words: “On the one hand, you’ve got a Washington-insider, politics-as-usual Democrat, and on the other you’ve got a wealthy businessman with no real political experience.” When I argued that a vote for Lamont sends a message to Washington that politics as usual aren’t working anymore, Dad wondered if Lamont would really affect that great of a change.

    I mean, calling Lamont radical is laughable. If I lived in CT, I’d vote for him, because I think it’s valuable to get Dems like Lieberman out of office, but if this were any other election, we’d be seriously questioning how well a rich businessman could govern.

  6. This stuff makes my head explode. Appealing to the base is suicide for the dems, but was brilliant republican strategy? Calling bad policy bad policy is going to lose us voters?

    The Washington insider class has absolutely no idea what is happening, and it’s starting to get a little embarrassing. When Lamont wins tomorrow (oh please oh please oh please) and a whole bunch of other dems win in November, I think they’re all going to have to retire to the sofa with the smelling salts.

  7. Even though I have no memory of the 70’s (my parents were hippies) I have to agree with Merciless and hope he/she is right. The hypocrisy is stunning (and where is the Liberal Media when Cokie Roberts says crap like that?). Appealing to the base is appealing to the base, and when the base wants us to get out of a pointless war that is killing people and making us the most hated nation on the planet, well, I’ll be glad to be called part of that base.

  8. The 70’s were great for me, Graduating from HS in ’72, Meeting and marrying the girl of my dreams in ’74 (we’re still together)
    In ’73 I rented a house with 2 roommates, the rent was $90.00 per month split 3 ways, gas was 29 cents per gallon, my motorcycle would run all week on the 4 gallon tank. my grocery bill was $10.00 per week. I was an Ironworker making $6.50 per hour and was able to actually put 50% of my earnings in the bank. A doctor or dentist visit was $10.The Beach Front High rise Condos I was working on went for $20,000. I lived in Fl from ’60 – ’74, during that time we had only 4 hurricanes, none were as severe as recent storms. VietNam was still in conflict, but the draft was abolished in ’72 so I didn’t get drafted. In the 70′, even with the war going on , there was still a sense of optimism… things would get better, dreams were grand and my wife and I went to California to really find them, and find them we did.
    The Arab oil embargo hit just before we left, we could have traded her toyota even for a full sized pick-up, but we stuck with the economy car for the trip west.
    Look where we are now. You can’t do shit without redundant insurance, everything costs an arm and a leg. Too many rules and regulations, can’t trust anyone to do the right thing, everyone wants a cut of your action.A double wide friggin trailer on a piece of dirt will fetch nearly $200,000., that’s if you can find insurance and the tax bill doesn’t eat up your salary. I really feel bad about leaving this to my daughter, freedom is all but gone.
    The republicans are about spreading vulture capitalism, not Democracy.
    In todays news, the Prudho bay pipeline is corroded and leaking, needing a shut-down for repairs to be performed by…….
    Yeah Team!
    Perhaps tomorrow will be better, As Condi says , “Clearly….”
    Well I guess it’s all clear in her strange little mind, but there’s only one thing clear to me, Our leaders are a pack of pathological liars.
    Real life Animal Farm……Too bad it will take $4.00 per gallon gas to shut ’em down.
    The sad thing is that if Shock ‘N Awe worked as intended and Iraq’s oil was up to speed, Bush would be a hero, in other words, if the bank robbery went off as planned, this would all be cool.
    Interesting times……..

  9. erinyes, you graduated a year earlier than myself, but I see that time (the 60s and 70s) exactly as you do. We didn’t know it, but it really was a golden age for our country. If someone fell asleep in 1972 and woke up today, I think they would soon kill themself over the sad spectacle of what our country has become.

    As for Lieberman/Lamont, Joe is a traitor, actively undermining the Democratic Party. The Dems will finally show a pulse when they can evict this Republican-Lite kind of guy, one whom the Republicans themselves are campaigning for, as one of their own. With friends like that…

    I just like Ned Lamont, from the few times I’ve heard him on blog videos. I don’t care that he’s a rich white businessman. He has the confidence of a successful businessman and speaks directly, and doesn’t fall into his questioner’s traps. Digby wrote that he hears a bit of JFK in his voice, and I hear that too. If Ned can finally become senator of the Nutmeg State, I think he’s can go even farther than that.

    If Joe wants to run in November, he should do so under the Republican ticket.

  10. Thanks for pointing out the nomenclature thing. I have come to hate the word “hippie” as it always was, and still is, used by someone who had no understanding of the person(s) he was referring to.
    Sorry about the really bad writing; I’m in a rush.

  11. Thanks for your very thoughtful analysis. I would just hasten to add one key ingredient: if there was a draft today, as there was with Vietnam, I don’t believe the journalistic aristocracy, many of whom have draft-age children, would be quite so dismissive of Lamont and the movement he represents. Indeed, it’s entirely likely that even the Neo-Con fantasy of “remaking” the Middle East would have succumbed to Karl Rove’s more Macchiavellian electoral concerns.

  12. Do righties really fear the 60s or just like to use its stereotypes as a cudgel?

    The political realignment that’s happened in this country in the last five years is simply amazing: Sandra Day O’Connor, a Reagan appointee, is considered “liberal.” Others, who were arguably leftist or left-leaning, have gone completely nuts (see: Dershowitz, Alan). And, the other day, I found myself nodding in agreement with Pat Buchannan and Chris Matthews as they discussed the growing Iraq civil war. As Greenwald’s persuasively argued in recent posts, the central divide in the US right now is between neo-conservativism and the absence of neo-conservativism.

    But right now, I have to try to get the image of David Broder with love beads out of my head . . . thanks maha!

  13. Do righties really fear the 60s or just like to use its stereotypes as a cudgel?

    Oh, both, I think. I slowly came to realize that much of “movement” conservatism, including neoconservatism and certainly social conservatism, started as reaction to the counterculture. And the spawn of baby boom righties not old enough to remember the 1960s have been brainwashed to regard the counterculture with dread and horror.

    One little example: Last September after the big antiwar march around the White House I came across some rightie comments claiming the marchers were smelly and unwashed, which was always the establishment claim against freaks. (Which was weird because, truth be told, the bulk of us were well socialized into American middle class sensibilities about soap and toothpaste. If anything we practiced better hygiene than our detractors.) Anyway, since the crowd in Washington was not, in fact, smelly and unwashed, I have to assume the righties were just replaying old tapes.

    Weird stuff, as I say.

  14. I think you’re right about the brainwashing. On those hideous conservative t-shirt sites, I keep seeing their “Hippies Smell” t-shirt (selling alongside supposedly funny t-shirts suggesting we should lynch journalists and use nuclear weapons in the Middle East). My guess is that most people buying that t-shirt are YAF & College Republican types, not people who were actually alive during the “hippy” era. I think the “hippies smell” line is similar to calling feminists of the 60s & 70s “bra-burners” — it has nothing to do with historical reality, but it fits a stereotype of the counterculture.

  15. I’d like to know where they’re seeing “hippies,” smelly or not. I’ve seen young people who dress the part, but the old attitude just isn’t there any more.

  16. It’s a stretch for the neocon crowd to label protestors & progressive liberal bloggers these days as fringe long-haired hippies considering a large number are middle aged boomers & grandparents from all walks of life. It must be quite a disappointment to them. Maybe the neocons took a few magic carpet rides back in the 60’s & 70’s & are still having flashbacks.

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