Saturday, October 2, 2010

Being There

As well described by cmaukonen the other day,there are things that cannot always be fully understood unless you lived through it. The unspeakably brilliant Jill Lepore explained to Rachel Maddow last night why that is not always so, and, frankly, why Barth the amateur historian is truly an amateur,

but to have missed the Vietnam War period means that much of what passes for political thought these days must be confusing.

It is hard to imagine, for instance, that missing that time you could fully understand how much "the war" overwhelmed almost every conversation, even those having little to do with politics. It got to the point that Randy Newman had to explain that when

entertaining a little girl in my rooms, Lord
With California wines and French parfumes, Lord
She started to talk to me about the War, Lord
I said, "I don't want to talk about the War."

For righteous reasons the war swamped everything else. Your faithful blogger was in high school during the time when those older were being drafted en masse to serve in that meat grinder, and was fortunate enough to hold a nice large number when the draft lottery covering his birth year was held, so a certain level of urgency did not apply, but until the summer of 1973, when a new obsession swept the country (a year too late to do what needed to be done), it was hard to talk about any other issue.

The result of that obsession was a new and divisive politics and it gave the king of such destructive debate, Richard Nixon, the eight years in the White House that were truncated when his thuggishness could no longer be ignored even by Republicans.

In the meantime, though, the Roosevelt majority destroyed itself. Some of what followed was, to be sure, the result of Southerners who had identified themselves as Democrats in memory of the party that opposed Abraham Lincoln and a reconstruction after the civil war which would have moved against racial segregation, deciding that it was time to leave the party that enacted civil rights legislation.

In 1968, though, it was the war, far more than anything else, that caused so many of the elements of the coalition that built and nurtured the New Deal into the Fair Deal, the New Frontier and then the Great Society. As liberals and progressives abandoned President Johnson and his party forcing him to forgo a campaign for re-election and watched it nominate Vice President Humphrey to succeed him after Senator Eugene McCarthy faded under the weight of the stronger and more inspirational campaign of Senator Robert f. Kennedy who was then murdered, its splintered remnants could not come together in time to prevent Nixon's election.

The divisions within the party, and within families and relationships have not completely healed over forty years later. We all know people only now able to experiment with contacts with those with whom they were close until the war divided them. For all the expressions of gratitude to those who give their life or limbs or mental acuity in service of our country, those who tried to avoid contact with the damaged people who returned to our campuses after a tour in 'Nam, have a long way to go to repair that damage.

The Democratic Party still wrestles with the legacy of that sad time. It has pockets that no longer trust the government to which President Roosevelt assigned the duty of being the ultimate protector of those unable to protect themselves. They remain suspicious of all efforts to protect the nation's security, and of law enforcement in this country as if J. Edgar Hoover were still preparing files on dissidents for the political use of the president whose administration compiled an enemies list.

To many their vote is an expression of principle and conscience. If a candidate or a president takes a position or maintains a view that violate either, they cannot be supported. It matters not that by withholding their vote they enable forces of gluttony, of selfishness, and even of out and out craziness to take over our government. Indeed, in a perverse way, they agree with their tormentors on only one thing: the government is bad.

As Randy Rhodes once said to Ralph Nader on the late Air America, we can longer afford that type of thought. Some of us never thought we could and urged votes for Vice President Humphrey to stop the evil that was able to take over our country. We even voted to re-elect President Carter because of the alternative and supported the re-election of President Clinton, even those his personal obsessions made irrelevant our worries and our ideas.

A voter does not have to agree with this blogger's views about the best and most inspirational president we have had since Nixon's triumph, to understand that what is at stake now is the very future of our government and, perhaps, the lives of millions of us. That president made the case exceedingly well earlier this week, again, and instead of reading further about the despair that floats all around, it might be better to spend a few minutes listening that what he had to say:

1 comment:


I caught this at Dag and commented.

The news that TEA meant something different in 1974 is more than intriguing to me.

Maybe there is some hope for the future of this country.