Per Glenn Greenwald, don’t miss this audio essay by rightie Rod Dreher.

As President Bush marched the country to war with Iraq, even some voices on the Right warned that this was a fool’s errand. I dismissed them angrily. I thought them unpatriotic.

But almost four years later, I see that I was the fool.

In Iraq, this Republican President for whom I voted twice has shamed our country with weakness and incompetence, and the consequences of his failure will be far, far worse than anything Carter did.

The fraud, the mendacity, the utter haplessness of our government’s conduct of the Iraq war have been shattering to me.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. Not under a Republican President.

Like so many loyal soldiers of movement conservatism, Dreher’s earliest political memories are of the Carter Administration and the Iranian hostage crisis, followed by the triumphant ascension of Ronald Reagan. He was 13 years old when Reagan was elected, so you can’t fault him for viewing these events through a child’s eyes. The problem is, as it is with so many of his fellow travelers, that his understanding of politics remained childish. He seems to have retained a child’s simple faith that Democrats (and liberals) are “bad” and Republicans (and conservatives) are “good,” so one does not have to think real hard to know who’s right or wrong. In the minds of righties, Republicans/conservatives have an inherent virtue that keeps them on the side of the angels. What passes for “critical analysis” among righties is most often just the unconscious jerking of their knees in support of their faith.

Dreher’s is the voice of a man who realizes his faith has been betrayed.

As I sat in my office last night watching President Bush deliver his big speech, I seethed over the waste, the folly, the stupidity of this war.

I had a heretical thought for a conservative – that I have got to teach my kids that they must never, ever take Presidents and Generals at their word – that their government will send them to kill and die for noble-sounding rot – that they have to question authority.

On the walk to the parking garage, it hit me. Hadn’t the hippies tried to tell my generation that? Why had we scorned them so blithely?

The answers to your questions, Mr. Dreher, are (1) yes, and (2) because you were brainwashed. As I wrote here,

I noticed years ago that the rank-and-file “movement conservative” is younger than I am. Well, OK, most people are younger than I am. But surely you’ve noticed that a disproportionate number of True Believers are people who reached their late teens / early twenties during the Carter or Reagan years at the earliest. They came of age at the same time the right-wing media / think tank infrastructure began to dominate national political discourse, and all their adult lives their brains have been pickled in rightie propaganda.

Because they’re too young to remember When Things Were Different, they don’t recognize that the way mass media has handled politics for the past thirty or so years is abnormal. What passes for our national political discourse — as presented on radio, television, and much print media — is scripted in right-wing think tanks and media paid for by the likes of Joseph Coors, Richard Mellon Scaife, and more recently by Sun Myung Moon. What looks like “debate” is just puppet theater, presented to manipulate public opinion in favor of the Right.

In this puppet theater “liberals” (booo! hisss!) are the craven, cowardly, and possibly demented villains, and “conservatives” are the noble heroes who come to the rescue of the virtuous maid America. Any American under the age of 40 has had this narrative pounded into his head his entire life. Rare is the individual born after the Baby Boom who has any clue what “liberalism” really is. Ask, and they’ll tell you that liberals are people who “believe in” raising taxes and spending money on big entitlement programs, which of course is bad. (Read this to understand why it’s bad.)

Just one example of how the word liberal has been utterly bastardized, see this Heritage Foundation press release of March 2006 that complains Congress is becoming “liberal.” Why? Because of its pork-barrel spending.

But I want to say something more about betrayal. One piece left out of most commentary on the freaks (not hippies, children; the name preferred by participants of the counterculture was freaks) was how betrayed many of us felt. Remember, we’d been born in the years after World War II. We’d spent our childhoods dramatizing our fathers’ struggles on Normandy Beach and Iwo Jima in our suburban back yards. Most of us watched “Victory at Sea” at least twice. Most of our childhood heroes were characters out of American mythos, like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone (who seemed an awful lot alike). Further, some of the scariest times of the Cold War unfolded during our elementary and middle schools years. We grew up believing the Communists would nuke us any second. Our schools (even Sunday School, as I recall) and media made sure we were thoroughly indoctrinated with the understanding that liberty and democracy were “good” and Communism was “bad,” and America Is the Greatest Nation in the World.

For many of us, these feelings reached their apex during the Kennedy administration. I was nine years old when he was elected. He seemed to embody everything that was noble and good and heroic about America. I remember his tour of Europe the summer before the assassination. I watched his motorcade move through cheering crowds on our black-and-white console television and never felt prouder to be an American.

But then our hearts were broken in Dallas, and less than two years later Lyndon Johnson announced he would send troops to Vietnam. And then the young men of my generation were drafted into the meat grinder. Sooner or later, most of us figured out our idealism had been misplaced. I was one of the later ones; the realization dawned for me during the Nixon Administration, which began while I was a senior in high school. Oh, I still believed in liberty and democracy; I felt betrayed because I realized our government didn’t. And much of my parents’ generation didn’t seem to, either.

The counterculture was both a backlash to that betrayal and to the cultural rigidity of the 1950s. And much of “movement conservatism” was a backlash to the counterculture, albeit rooted in the pseudo-conservatism documented earlier by Richard Hofstadter and others.

(And how weird is it that anyone is still talking about “hippies”? Did some hippiechick sitter drop Dreher on his head when he was a baby?)

Rod Dreher and others of his generation are now old enough that their children are at least approaching adolescence, if they haven’t already arrived. What “earliest political memory” will imprint on them? What form will the inevitable rebellion against their parents’ generation take?

Update: Sorta kinda related — Jonathan Zasloff speculates how much the Carter/Iranian hostage crisis episode caused the Dems to lose credibility on foreign policy. The fact is, to get the whole sad story of how the Dems lost credibility on foreign policy you have to go back to the 1940s. And it has little to do with anything the Dems actually did, or didn’t, do.

125 thoughts on “Betrayal

  1. None of which would have occurred, according to the conservative theories of the times if the Progressives hadn’t had decades of free rein to indoctrinate the children and provide them with free educations.

    Which is hysterically funny, because the “free education” most of us got in public schools in the 1950s and 1960s was designed to turn us into super-patriots. We learned only about the good things America had done, and how superior we were to anyone else. They even cleaned up the Civil War to make it seem kind of cute. But all that added to the sense of betrayal. After My Lai lots of shit hit lots of fans. Lots of skeletons (e.g., Wounded Knee) came out of the national closet.

  2. I am always amazed by the fact that Dreher is seven years younger than me. He always seems like a cranky, fusty old man. He only remembers Reagan? He always seems like he’s harkening back to the salad days of Silent Cal Coolidge.

    What a twit. Oh, and I tend to agree w/ Den Valdron. Let Bush have a string of successes and Dreher’s rod will be firm once more.

  3. My feeling is that if one is a Pacifist, one has a head start in determining that leaders dupe their citizens into killing and dying in wars which benefit a handful of millionaire profiteers.

  4. Oh, I remember the late Carter and early Reagan years and all that was about. And I see it in this fellow Rod Dreher too.

    It was all about ego and vanity, violated ego and violated vanity. It was all about the 1950s and its selfcongratulatory, undereducated, provincialism and its flip side, brain dead paranoia.

    The nostalgic side of it is Mayberry, the Leave It To Beaver America. The bad side of it is the Reagan Eighties America, and wingnuttery selfabsorbed in its various ideations of Cold War nuclear apocalypse and psychological annihilation- The Twilight Zone, the endless projections of the Cold War as interplanetary alien takeover, etc up to The X Files.

    What I remember most about the Eighties is that right wing people truly and emphatically asserted their right to be intolerably stupid. It was some form of bliss and a God-bestowed right to be Utterly Unbelievably Infernally Wrong, utterly beyond contempt. They knew some form of Paradise awaited them, and the dirty f-ing hippies were just some horrid annoyance on the way to that place who deserved to be kicked until they bled. Then again, cocaine was the drug of choice of the time…being high on it puts people in the frame of mind that defined every right wing pathology of the time.

    Then again, the last years of the Cold War were pretty eerie stuff, neither side dared look at reality- the horrible edge-of-the-abyss situation the sides were in- very closely. The real stalemate move was by Schmidt and Carter in 1977, stationing the Pershing IIs along the Rhine. But that left no meaningful military moves for either side, so what was left to do was bluff and create imaginary threats, e.g. “Star Wars” and try to freak each other out with talk and propaganda. And to create myths on your own side asserting your ability to endure and prevail- ‘Top Gun’ and the like crap in retrospect.

    It was all bullshit, of course. But the Rod Drehers bought into it, because reality was much harder to bear.

  5. It’s not a bad thing to remember that they didn’t use to be. I don’t think either party is inherently better or worse than the other. The people in the parties, however …

    oh i know. my father was a goldwater conservative, although he did vote for wallace (that’s sort of evil). he thought the rich had earned the right.

    and during the reagan administration i had republican freinds, they all thought he was somehow magically going to make them rich. i’m actually more concerned about the poor. and that’s really the dividing line. as i once heard george carlin say “i’m not political, but if you threw me out of a helicopter i’d probably fall on the left side of the line. i’m more concerned with peoples rights than property rights.”

  6. Count me as another 17 year old, from a Republican family, raised in a small conservative town, who was pissed off at Carter and was glad Reagan won. But I figured out the Reagan gambit about 2 months into his term, when he refused to follow Stockman’s recommendations for cuts on corporate welfare, like the Ex-Im bank. It helped that I was attending a college and was surrounded by people who could think for a change. Haven’t voted for a Republican since.

    One of the greatest ironies of the fact that so many neo-cons based their lifetime belief on the Iranian hostage crisis is that the real bad guys were Reagan’s goons. With historical perspective it is self-evident that the January 21, 1981 hostage transfer could not have been arranged on inauguration day — that it would have been arranged in October to prevent Carter’s “October Surprise”. In addition, the failure of 3 of the 8 helicopters is very suspicious. Many military leaders at that time desperately wanted Reagan to win, and it is at least plausible, if not likely, that internal sabotage had taken place.

    So, just as they did back then, today’s Republican leaders are happy to sacrifice American lives and American interests to advance their own. Welcome to reality.

  7. You know, I’m forty and my first politcal memories are of Watergate and Vietnam, I was 7 when Nixon resigned. The hearings and that made a big impression. In my 13 year old male lizard brain I liked Reagan for a minute, but soon Central America changed my mind. Like Reagan’s crew, this Bush gang has nothing to do with “conservative”. They’re about having real world power (weapons, energy, money) and using it. Period.

  8. The Iranian hostage rescue attempt was planned by the US military- not by President Carter. The fact that it failed should say more about the leading lights in the Pentagon- and not so much about the character of the President.

    What does reflect Carter’s character is that he resisted calls for war and invasion. The absence of war in the face of provocation- that WAS a great moment in American history.

  9. Except for the wealthy constituency that created him, Reagan’s terms in office was a disaster in every respect. But his puppeteers were absolute masters in P.R., marketing and mythmaking (recall that the Reagan didn’t even appear in his “Morning In America” campaign commercials), and Reagan was a competent actor who could read his lines. At the same time, his administration paralleled the ascendency of right-wing radio and the Scaife, Bradley, Olin, etc. machine. The result of their non-stop 24/7 efforts is a stunning mass misperception of history, to the point where, for example, the accident of the Carter’s failed hostage mission is now mythic, while the disastrous decisions that led Marines to be sitting ducks in Lebanon, and the deaths of 241 of them with hundreds more wounded, are all but forgotten. The Reagan myth was a brilliant, if despicable, propaganda coup, engineered by many of the same folks who’ve brought us the disaster of George W. Bush.

    There is one thing that would cause a lot of these under-40 dittohead conservatives who’ve bought into all this mythology to turn around: a draft. It’s apparent that they view the volunteer military more as employees, not members of their own communities or class. If they were the cannon fodder, much of the strutting bellicosity and pseudo-patriotic jingosim would cease overnight.

  10. The Geneva Conventions were civilization’s reward for winning WW11. Learning that we should never, ever engage in another occupation of a hostile nation was our consolation prize for Vietnam. Like it or not all of Vietnam, not just the north wanted their independence.

    The Bush Administration sadly has trampled on the sacrifices of the people of all nations who fought and all who suffered in those conflicts. It particularly saddens me that my Uncle Harry who almost died in both the Battle of the Bulge and the Tet Offensive did die a couple years ago and saw some of the most important accomplishments of his generation and his life personally cast aside
    by the much lesser men who now hold power.

    He didn’t help empty the death camps in Germany to make the world safe for American torture at Abu Ghraib. He didn’t dodge Viet Cong death squads on the streets of Saigon so his old unit could ride around Iraq waitng to get blown up.

  11. Brought up left-wing — first election I remember was 1984. I was eight. Reagan was obviously either lying or delusional, or both, and was hip-deep in Iran-Contra. Mondale was fabulous, and trashed. Defining moment.

    I’m on the leading edge here. People a few years older than me grew up “conservative”. People younger than me uniformly grew up liberal, and specifically anti-Republican. From Iran-Contra onward, the Republicans have been producing unmitigated disaster and lying continuously right up through the present day — worse each year. And those younger than me *noticed it*. The percentage of conservatives drops as you go down each age bracket from me. The media’s been untrustworthy since before we were born, so we knew never to accept what it said, unlike the older folks. Nothing wrong with the kids under 30, folks.

  12. herk,

    Your point about me unfairly conflating Johnson and Nixon is correct. The context of my thinking involved Vietnam, not any of the “Great Society” programs that did, in fact, help our nation (especially those involving equal rights). But Johnson did lie to us about Vietnam (The Gulf of Tonkin comes immediately to mind) and deserved to suffer the consequences of his wrong-headed policies that led to the unnecessary deaths of thousands.

  13. To clarify — Mondale “was undeservedly trashed by the media and the Republicans”. Trashed can have multiple meanings.

  14. First time visitor to your blog via Glen Greenwald via Eschaton.

    I agree with your argument and historical context of the mis-use of the concept, liberal, and how the demonization of it re-framed the spectrum of conservative/liberal to a right/wrong spurious one.

    There are so few who can critically think and correctly and logically frame arguments that I hope you will continue to write more posts in this vein.

    It’s time to re-claim concepts that have been mis-used and misconstrued.

  15. I went from noisily pro-Viet Nam war in my early teens ca. ’67 – ’68 (I must have been insufferable, actually) to anti-war, then hippie (specifically that) dropout by my late teens – precisely because I started seeing through the lies and hypocrisy and began to understand how contrary the war (and its attendant policies and politics – and of course Nixon and his cronies themselves) were to the American ideals I had been raised on and believed in – and still continue to believe in.

    I dropped back in, of course, becoming a mildly-lefty lawyer – but have continued to be deadly aware that government is both a tool which can and should be used for the greater good, and must be watched carefully and controlled since it can also do awful things, and will if in the hands of some factions.

    My son is now a very-aware 15-year old, a political news junkie with a precocious awareness of history. His “moment of dawning awareness” has been the last two or three years – and he will not come away from it easily fooled.

  16. I was 7 when Kennedy was elected. My worldview was so limited that I wanted him to win because he was handsomer than Icky Dick. Three years later, the earth shook at my foundations when he took the hit. I knew then that something was wrong with the world, that the explanations would no longer wash.

    Historians who say he was overrated always minimize so much he did that inspired us and made us think: visiting Appalachia, fending off anti-Catholicism, making the right choices about civil rights (even if reluctantly), the Peace Corps, playing with his kids, his self-deprecating humor, and more. Inspiration is a deed in itself.

    Carter? I really disliked him when he got elected. He seemed decent enough, but he was too conservative for my tastes. By 1976, I was definitely a freak, into Mother Earth News and the Rodale Press. I wanted solar. He was ethanol and nukes.

    I remembered Ford’s rescue mission of the USS Pueblo. He lost more troops than he saved. What Carter did that pissed off the Iranians was he let their dying dictator get medical care in our country. He tried a rescue which – as Anne noted, above – only was aborted due to equipment failure, not cowardice or poor planning. And then he used patience and negotiations.

    It was tough for him and moreso for the hostages. But at the end of his presidency, I realized he’d accomplished something no other president had achieved even in my parents’ lifetime: he didn’t lose a single troop in combat. After he went back to Plains, I wrote him a thank you note for that.

    Freak that I am, I grew so anti-materialism that when Jerry Rubin joined millions of freaks that became Yuppies, I viewed him – and them – as sellouts. Firesign Theatre had an album titled “Everything You Know Is Wrong” which summed up my feelings about the perception change that occurred when MLK and Bobby were shot, and I started learning the difference between real history and nationalist indoctrination.

    Though I was outwardly able to maintain a degree of conformity, out of economic necessity, I was into my forties before I began to accept that some of my rebelliousness to the status quo was just as rigid as Dreher’s acceptance of it. But I don’t think I can ever be a nationalist, because I claim ownership of nothing, really.

    We’re all mortals, so we ultimately are just temporary renters on this planet. And one of my favorite quotes comes from Pablo Casales: “The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?”

    Thank you, Maha, and so many commenters, for so much thoughtfulness and insight, which triggered so many memories, and hopes, and reminded me that idealism never has to surrender, or apologize.

  17. N=1: “There are so few who can critically think and correctly and logically frame arguments that I hope you will continue to write more posts in this vein.”

    Amen. I think this post should be required reading at colleges and universities, and perhaps even high schools. When I see what passes for right wing “political debate” in this country, I can’t help but wonder when our educational system stopped teaching basic logical reasoning and elementary critical thinking.

    When I was in college, we were taught to recognize the logical fallacies and techniques of manipulation commonly used in both political and product advertising. In addition, at least one professor often reminded us that:

    “Especially in public policy debates, it’s important to ask yourself how you ‘know’ what you ‘know’ because, very often, things that you ‘know’ are no more than things you’ve heard repeated often enough that you don’t stop to question them.”

    When did our colleges and universities stop teaching these things?

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  19. I am one of the “freaks” that you talk about.Every day that I wake up,I feel the pain of that betrayl that started for me at age 19 when a fellow student from a dorm window informed me that John F. Kennedy had been shot.
    Call me “freak,;”call me “liberal;”call me what ever the hell you want to,but it will not change the fact that our alleged leaders since then have shamed us on an astronomical basis.It is worse today than I have ever seen it.Our leaders have become criminals of the utmost.
    Thanks for this great post honoring the folks that tried to make a difference.We may well yet.

  20. I was 10 when Kennedy was elected. I had no particular appreciation of his virtues when he was alive but of course bought into his martyrdom 3 years later.

    In retrospect though I don’t see him a lot better or different than Ronald Reagan.

    Anyone who seeing Bush in action starts to reconsider Reaganism instead of putting it on a higher pedestal has learned something.

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  22. In retrospect though I don’t see him a lot better or different than Ronald Reagan.

    Too harsh. Kennedy was more flawed than most of us realized at the time, but he didn’t try to dismantle the New Deal, appeal to white racist voters with “Cadillac queen” stories, or allow a terrible disease to spread just because most of the sick were homosexual.

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  24. Rod, I do believe, just realized that Bush 43, the neo-cons and the “bowel” movement conservatives have sold out the future of his own children.

    From huge budget and trade deficits, to massive spending on an unnecessary war in Iraq (with more wars planned by BushCo), to global warming and environmental degradation, Rod must have started thinking about what future he and his fellow “bowel” movement conservatives will be handing off not only to his children but to all the children in America. And it is not a pretty sight.

    The question is, though, will the Democrats in the new Congress be able to roll back some of the worst abuses and excesses of the “bowel” movement conservatives, bring our democracy back from the brink of destruction fostered by the “bowel” movement conservatives, or will it be business as usual up in Washington?

    We shall see.

    Impeach Bush and Cheney now.

    The White House needs an enema, to flush out all the “bowel” movement conservatives. who have done what they’ve done to our great nation.

  25. maha 26, I don’t get the smiley. I remember all that stuff, too, because I was born in 1945. The hostage affair has not yet been resolved and that’s why it’s still in the background of U.S. foreign policy, with Tehran as the goal. The Iranian revolution showed the way for Muslim countries to challenge the U.S. and that’s where we are today. Marx has hardly made it into the 21st century, the Ayatollah has spectacularly.

  26. The hostage affair has not yet been resolved

    I realize that. The point is that even though it was important event, it didn’t have the kind of personal impact, or color my entire worldview, the way earlier events did.This is about how events are perceived subjectively, remember.

  27. I have somewhat of a different take on the treatment of liberalism by conservatives and the media. The odd thing to me is that conservatives so often view themselves as rebelling against a “dominant” liberalism even when they’re in charge. That’s why right-wing commentators insist so much on structuring their arguments in terms of knocking down liberal straw men. Instead of seeing their conservatism as natural, they view themselves as responding to and undercutting a consensus liberalism. They’re right about this. Polls regularly demonstrate that most people agree with liberal positions on social and economic issues. Right-wingers and their allies are always rolling against a liberal current.

  28. Artful Dodger, you only know half of it. The fix was in. How about the total disappearance of, yup, gasoline?

  29. i am a bit younger than you, maha, i heard about kennedy’s assasination while sitting on the swings in my grade school yard…i thought the girls who were telling me the news were joking with me.

    i remember watching jack ruby shoot lee harvey oswald on tv a few days later. those were exciting times!

    i was and always will be a hippie…not in terms of (non) bathing or tie-dyes, and i lost most of my hair to let it grow long, but in terms of believing the government should conform to the will of the people, and not visa versa.

    but enough of me, now let’s talk about drehr. you are much too easy on him, in both your amazement at his conservative roots turning liberal, and what it means.

    drehr was always half-way to hippiedom. he fashioned a political subset known as the “crunchy conservative”: conservative in family values and patriotism, but ready to be open to organic food and alternative lifestyles (to a point, which i discuss a bit later). he is quoted in 2006:

    crunchy cons prefer old houses and mom-and-pop shops to mcmansions and strip malls…. many of us homeschool our kids, and cheerfully embrace nonconformity. i read edmund burke and wear birkenstock sandals. go figure.

    so it ain’t that far a stretch for him to become a hippie.

    however, as i said above, there are limits to his tolerance. he’s always been a homophobe, and so, i for one, don’t particularly welcome him into our anti-establishment contrarian group with open arms.

  30. whoops! so sorry! i was so busy bashing dreher i forgot to blogwhore!

    maha’s reminiscing of those days as youngsters in the cold war reminds me of my essay about how these kids today are willing to soil their pants at the mere mention of the word “terrorism” when we faced a daily prospect of the entire world blowing up in a nuclear holocaust:

    we are sick of panty-waisted namby pamby cowards who pee their pants at the thought of a rag-tag bunch of disorganized zealots from the desert who screech “death to america.” have these nancy boys no gumption, no spine, no grit? have they no balls?

    we grew up during the 60’s, when america had a real enemy, an enemy that could actually blow this country up: the soviet union. a country with a real government, a real army, a real cadre of nuclear missiles and submarines which, at any moment, was poised to shoot across the oceans onto our heads.

    we grew up with the fear of air raid sirens going off at any possible moment; we grew up with the constant rehearsals in school of “duck and cover,” as if the wooden slate of our desks were going to shield us from the 20 megaton nuclear bomb implanted in the nose of the icbm theoretically heading down towards our quivering little bodies.

    from we are just sick and tired of it all – a skippy rant may 23, 2006.

  31. Rod Dreher is a whining loser who’s having an embarrassing public midlife crisis meltdown. Hopefully his wife will have the sense to divorce him and take custody of his children before he has the chance to inflict permanent damage upon them.

  32. I agree with Maha on Kennedy, he wasn’t as perfect as we thought; but, he was human like the rest of us who are far from perfect. I was an impressionable 15 when Kennedy ran for President and I remember him having a great energy that rubbed off on the American people. He was eloquent and witty. And, most of all, he kept us out of a nuclear war. I shudder when I think of W having control of nuclear weapons.

  33. Carter’s attempt at a rescue, really was not that far from Ford’s somewhat succesful response to the Mayaguez incident. Both were thrown together without much of a plan and were in a lot of ways debacles. It was something of a historical accident that one “succeeded ” and the other failed. Both were near the low point of US military’s capabilities. By the time Reagan and Bush came to power the military had rebuilt from Vietnam.

  34. And how weird is it that anyone is still talking about “hippies”?

    A lot of the neo-cons were scared shitless by the hippies and they have spread that fear.

  35. Sorry: the aberration was the 60s and 70s. It’s just that since we grew up in those years, we thought it was normal to be at war with the status quo all the time. It wasn’t. Before and obviously afterwards, the top kept down the bottom and intimidated the middle to play nice. So– though I can totally confirm the psycho-ness of growing up thinking my little neighborhood in the sticks of Southern Ohio was going to be nuked at any moment, that was the beginning of A Different Time. We all went back sometime in the late 70s to where it was in 1959.

  36. I think you’re right about the Carter years as a formative moment in making young people like me at the time into conservative Republicans.

    I was still in elementary school when Carter was president, but growing up in what I was taught to believe was the greatest country in the world, I could not understand what was going on. Between the Iran hostage crisis and the failed rescue mission, the Soviets invading Afghanistan, and the odd/even gas days, it struck me even at that early age that things were seriously wrong with America.

    I still remember a commercial run by the Republicans during the 1980 election that featured a bunch of old Democratic men in a car that had stalled out, and the narrator declaring “The Democrats have run out of gas.”

    There really was this sense that Reagan was going to set things right, and the freeing of the hostages on his inauguration day only seemed to confirm that.

  37. Wow, reading through the comments here I realize how lucky I am in many ways. I was born in ’78, and my earliest political memories are of the ’84 elections when I liked Reagan for no particular reason other than he seemed like a nice guy even though my parents gently cautioned me that he might be a nice man but did not make a very good president.

    However, the important thing in my upbringing was that my parents always taught me to think and question–they were and are both fairly liberal folks, but they didn’t indoctrinate me with any particular philosophy. Further impressive still is that my father is a member of the WWII generation (enlisted as a Marine in the South Pacific toward the end of the war), and my mom was born about a generation later on the early end of the Boom. Both were part of “the establishment” during Vietnam (my mom was a professor during a lot of the big protests), and neither was anything like a Hippie, yet both ended up being quiet, analytical liberals.

    Perhaps this is why it sickens me such when I see modern “conservatives” on the web ranting about spineless liberals and dirty hippies. I happen to live in a town that attracted a lot of the hippies who never “outgrew” being hippies, and I, nor my parents, are anything like a hippie, not that there would be anything wrong with that if we were. But I find it upsetting when you call my father–a man who spent his late teen years sleeping in foxholes in godforsaken jungle islands and watching kamikaze pilots attack the ship he was on–a coward or a dirty hippy for being intelligent enough to see through the lies of government officials of EVERY political leaning, and who fought in a war specifically so his sons would NOT have to be shipped off to fight somebody else’s battles in a faraway land.

    I am sorry, but while I may not have served in the Marines, my father did, and calling him a coward or “loony lefter” for being able to see when a war is pointless belies a serious lack of anything resembling honor or intelligence. Further, if he could spend several of his formative years being shot at by Japanese yet realize that just because they were sent to die by their leaders their race and nation was not inherently evil, but that our interning of patriotic Americans was, then the generation today decrying the “evil” of Islam can figure out the same thing themselves.

    Do not presume that because you are bigoted or shortsighted that you have the right to invoke great men like my father to serve your needs, and growing up in ANY era is no excuse for an inability to see past your own predjudices.

    If two men–one whose formative years were spent being inundated with propaganda about the evils of the Japanese and being shot at by them and the other who spent the same period being steeped in propaganda about the evils of the US and with our bombs falling on his home–can each welcome one of the “enemy” into their family with open hearts, then anyone can learn to forgive and understand in terms more nuanced than black and white.

  38. “The counterculture was both a backlash to that betrayal and to the cultural rigidity of the 1950s.”


    And the latter was in turn a reaction to the uncertainty of the Depression and the foreign chaos of “the war” (WWII), and so forth and so on.

    Perspective. History. Jesus, how many jillions more people have to die before our society finally begins to take it seriously?

  39. I was born into a solidly Democratic family in San Francisco and learned politics from reading about the Free/Dirty speech movement in the SF Chronicle. My mother wept with joy when Kennedy was elected and said “I finally feel like an American”. She was first generation American, born in the Irish ghetto of San Francisco. Her father was a union organizer on the rail yards and docks, descended from the IRA, and my grandmother was sent to San Francisco by the IRA because the British had hung her entire family after the 1916 Rising. Yet the night Nixon announced that he had a secret plan to end the Vietnam War, she celebrated. Until I turned to her and said, “Mom, he’s lying.” She literally gasped. She turned to me and said, “Presidents don’t lie!” During the Beserkly riots, my father was in a police communications van borrowed from the SFPD, directing the attacks. And that was the state of America in Nixon’s time. We were raised with the ideal of America as the land of the free and the home of the brave, where everyone had rights and prosperity afforded everyone a good living. And when we learned of Appalachia and Jim Crow and Mai Lai, when JFK, MLK and Bobby were shot, when it dawned on us that we would all be dead by thirty because some insane jerk would push the damn button, there were only two choices. We could turn on, tune in and drop out, or hide in the jingoism. Some turned into Yuppies. The rest of us merged uneasily into the mainstream to feed our families. Some of us kept to our ideals of simplicity, service and awareness of our impact on the planet.
    I will never forget the day (was it 1996?) when I learned that Russia’s government had turned its nuclear weapons away from our continent. I felt I could breathe for the first time in my life, and I was grateful that my sons would never know the terror of raising their children under a nuclear threat. My first grandchild will be born in the next week or ten days, and though I welcome him, I grieve for the suffering he will endure. I hope there is reason to hope.

  40. Many phrases in Dreher’s essay indicate that what we’re seeing as an adolescent simplicity in casting Republicans and Democrats as “good” and “bad” is, I think, a manefestation of plain ol’ American anti-intellectualism. He says he has to teach his children “they have to question authority.” Well, it’s a basic that someone that thinks, questions. Maybe that’s the real challenge to the “core political beliefs he has held since childhood.”

  41. “He seems to have retained a child’s simple faith that Democrats (and liberals) are “bad” and Republicans (and conservatives) are “good,””

    Funny if you just change a few words around you just described yourself.

  42. As someone from the deep south, I to grew up listening at the dinner table to “political” talk from my parents that shaped my later political views. The language was unsophisticated and easy for even a child to understand (though only much later would it sink in and begin to influence my own political views).

    You see I grew up in the south during the civil rights movement – the child of a lower middle class – white working class family. I started school in one of the first fully integrated school years of my small town. And while integration and the rest of the changes the civil rights movement brought were transparent for me (since they were my normal world), in the adult population it left scars that have never went away.

    These scars are ugly – deep – and have kept the south voting Republican.

    But my generation and the generations after us (the children of integration and our children) do not own these scars and we hold no loyalty to the Republican’s who’ve taken advantage of them.

    I do not believe that Vietnam, 60’s style counterculture or any other factor had a bigger influence on the roll to the right of the south – my belief is that it was racial (or more specifically forced integration).

    Their are worlds between the upper middle class upbringing of Mr. Dreher and the world of the tide of voters in the working class south.

    As a deep south living centrist, I believe the tide in the south is starting to turn just a little back to the middle. And it wasn’t Mr. Dreher and his peers that elected the second president Bush into office – it was working class southerners.

  43. I guess it’s gone down the memory hole, but our hostages in Iran were literally getting off the plane after being released as numbnuts Reagan was being inaugurated. Once the republicans got away with that, it became a free for all which has led us directly to where we are today. The evidence is indisputable, those sons of bitches were in cahoots with the Iranians. The Iranians went along with it, because they wanted to get weapons from numbnuts Reagan. And they did, hence Iran Contra. Numbnuts Reagan is surely roasting in hell now, but that is little comfort to those of us that have to live with his legacy of hatred and class warfare.

  44. Perspective. History. Jesus, how many jillions more people have to die before our society finally begins to take it seriously?

    I’m beginning to think that as a species, we’re the type that has to step in it to find it. By the time we realize we can actually learn from others’ mistakes, we’re damn near close to death.

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