[Update: If you’re here ’cause Susie sent you, you probably want this link.]

A follow up on this morning’s history postEric Alterman writes,

The punditocracy argument about 1972, while dead wrong about McGovern himself, who was a brave, patriotic World War II hero form the South Dakota, has some validity, given whom he was perceived by voters to represent. The first serious historical research I ever did was when I was researching my honors thesis as an undergraduate. I wanted to study the origins of neoconservatism, the Six Day War, and Vietnam—this was back in 1981—and my adviser, Walter LaFeber—insisted that I learn a little context first by examining the attitudes of the entire country to the war and the antiwar movement. I poured over the polling data and found to my surprise, that in many ways, the antiwar movement was counterproductive. Many Americans didn’t like the war but they really hated the counterculture. If supporting Nixon was a way to get back at the hippies and protesters and rioters, they were willing to do it, even if it meant extending a war they thought to be already lost.

This is true, and I’ve said the same thing many times. And every time I say this somebody tells me I’m crazy. “The Vietnam War ended, didn’t it? That must mean the antiwar movement was effective.” Hardly. History always looks simpler when you view it from a distance, but at the time it’s generally complicated and messy.

Now look at today. In the first place, as I keep saying, remember this is Connecticut. It’s blue, antiwar state. It’s not the whole damn country. But second, look at the context for God’s sake. There’s no antiwar movement to speak of, no riots, no marches, no one is burning their draft cards, preaching free love, wiping themselves with the flag, bussing your kids to ghetto schools or vice-versa, taking away your jobs, raising your taxes to give the money to rioting race-baiting Black Panthers, etc.

Exactly. Instead you’ve got mostly middle-class citizens in khakis who give a damn about America and think the ship of state is being steered the wrong way — a view shared by a whopping majority of Americans.

The only Abbie Hoffman/Jerry Rubin types are on the right and when they’re not hosting Fox News programs, they are being called “brilliant” by Chris Matthews on MSNBC. So the upshot we are left with is that Connecticut Democrats picked a candidate whose positions are consistent with the majority and rejected one whose are not. And yet that, we are told is somehow the “elitist” position that will destroy the Democrats with a public that largely agrees with them. In other words, the analogy fails completely upon the slightest scrutiny.


Also, the Anonymous Liberal has a history post up at Unclaimed Territory. And thanks to commenter dday for recommending this article on McGovern in The American Conservative magazine, believe it or not. It’s worth a look.

11 thoughts on “Countercultural

  1. …today’s pundit’s probably don’t get it, when they don’t get it, because they didn’t grow up with the Vietnam War and see how it played out. The American people didn’t turn against the Vietnam war because of Abby Hoffman, the Chicago Seven, or the Students for a Democratic Society. They turned against the war because they watched Americans dying every night over dinner on TV. Night after night, for years, with no apparent plan to make it stop and no clear endpoint where we might be able to say we won…

    The Pentagon gets it. That’s why, dating back to the 1991 Gulf war, the war media has been wrapped up in tight little sacks, to keep us from once again watching the bloody, shattered bodies of American troops being hauled in poncho’s to waiting medivac choppers while we’re eating dinner. In this protracted occupation we’re stuck with in Iraq, that gameplan isn’t working so well because we still hear the body count, and we can still see the conflict going on day after day, with no apparent plan to make it stop and no clear endpoint where we might be able to say we won. Once again, without needing Tom Hayden, Bobby Seale, the Weather Underground, or Berkeley protests, the American people have turned against the war…

  2. Ditto Maha and Jack K. As someone who was in her early 20’s during the Vietnam War protest era, I freely admit being opposed to the war and equally opposed to the appearance of the anti-war protestors. There was no “group” for me to join to protest the war openly. This time, however, as I stood outside a local Catholic church, as part of a candlelight vigil to protest the invasion of Iraq, I was joined by very ordinary suburbanites, many with their children. We need to give a face to the angry suburbanites known to many in the traditional media as the “angry left”.

  3. Another thoughtful post.

    At the end of the day, the issue for me is how to effectively communicate to people that our government is broken and that our foreign policy is not just broken but extremely dangerous to ourselves.

    I’m a liberal Democrat but I used to go to sleep when Republicans won an election because, although I disagreed with their policies, I figured they couldn’t damage things too much. That’s no longer the case. The radicals are now on the far right and they more or less control the country.

    But again, how do we break through the Republican public relations machine? I see progress but we’re once again up against an election.

    Is it enough to ask people to stop pretending that George W. Bush knows what he’s doing?

    Is it enough to ask people to elect a Congress that will demand action instead of sitting on their hands every time the president blunders or breaks a law?

    I don’t know the answer. Not everything about the 60s was a mistake but I agree the huge demonstrations, the riots, the stunts, and the overt political manipulations on the left often backfired. But my Republican parents are on Medicare, a product of the 1960s, and they will tell you that it’s a good thing.

    In the end, there’s no good substitute for good communication but I’m not sure what it means except some patience in the act of communication is required and that’s difficult when things are not going well.

  4. Appreciated the McGovern piece. He briefly visited my hometown during the 1972 campaign, which was the first speech I ever heard by a major politician. I was young and was captivated, and I remember writing a wistfully glowing piece about the event for an English class. I was crushed when he only took Massachusetts in the fall election.

    I think a reprise of his “Come Home, America” slogan could be a great slogan in the hands of the right politician. I also expect McGovern’s reputation to be rehabilitated in the coming years. It’s amazing to see such a positive and candid article in The American Conservative. Thanks for the link.

  5. “Every Senator in this Chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This Chamber reeks of blood.” — George McGovern

    He was telling the truth..We need men of honesty to speak so boldly today about the situation in Iraq. But what do we get?…cut and run, stay the course, or we’re surrendering to al Qaida.

    Sorry to say that in 1972 my mind wasn’t functioning very well and I was on automatic patriot. Alcohol was good,marijuana was bad,military haircut was good, long hair was un-American. I was a brownshirt for Nixon’s felt moral.

  6. Pingback: Suburban Guerrilla » History and Why It Isn’t Repeating Itself

  7. I think people should remember that if it wasn’t for CREEP’s dirty watergate-related dirty tricks Muskie might well have been nominated. Could Nixon have beat Muskie? Perhaps – but he was the one they were scared of. He was anti-war but not as closely identified with the counter-culture that americans resented more than the war.

  8. I think that the Democrats’ losses in 1968 and 1972 need to be seen in the context of the racial politics of the 1960s and 1970s as well. The party was deserted by Dixiecrats upset over the civil rights legislation passed under the Johnson administration. Nixon was able to exploit this discontent to realign southern states – a traditional Democratic stronghold – into the Republican ranks for the rest of the century. Today that wound is not as fresh.

  9. Studying polls won’t explain much. Younger readers will not remember big cities with police and fire departments that refused to hire women or non-whites, political machines run by bosses who worked with labor bosses, racial struggle in which black people were openly killed by police and cities burned….

    At the time, the only free press was a handful of “hippie” newspapers in major cities. The big city dailies were squarely in the back pockets of urban elites who only differed in degree (if that) from the mob politicians in how the rest of us should be handled.

    And of course, Nixon trying to stimulate protest against himself, and on occasion waiting for a larger angry mob to form so the photos of him “under fire” would be more dramatic.

    Let’s hope that those who failed to learn from history are not doomed to repeat it.

  10. Pingback: The Mahablog » Don’t Blame McGovern II

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