The '60s counter-culture revolution was deeply, deeply galvanizing for many people. Not so much for the hippies themselves, mind you -- the Boomers transitioned fairly seamlessly into toothless feel-good bromides, middle management, and unrepentant consumerism. No, the real legacy of the 60s/early 70s was to freak out conservatives on a primal, lizard-brain level (see: Nixon, Richard M. and descendants). A 'culture war' was born, broke the surface with the Reagan Revolution, and continues unabated. The ideological messages were simple: socialism is evil, any use of government on behalf of public welfare amounts to socialism, markets rule, aggressive militarism rules, sex is evil, God rules, and above all -- the central governing principle, the North Star, the lodestone -- beware the dirty hippies.These fools are toxic. I know some here would have us ignore them, but that is an empty gesture. Our little corner soapbox (and I mean not just this blog, but the blogosphere in general) punishes no one with silence -- the Gang of 500 would not go through withdrawal if the dirty hippies stopped throwing rocks at them. Our only (marginally) effective tools are shame and ridicule. The pundit class does hear our footsteps, and we are making them increasingly nervous.
Beware the dirty hippies. They're immature and irresponsible. They're utopians and dreamers. They meddle with lives and hate Christian values and blame America first and root for terrorists. They want free sex and legalized drugs and mandatory abortion. They want to eat your babies. They heart Satan.
This enormous backlash against revolutionary leftism continued growing and gaining strength long after revolutionary leftism petered out as a political force of any real influence.
The narratives and habits of mind bequeathed us by the culture war are with us still, despite the long-ago disappearance of one combatant. It's shadowboxing on a nationwide scale, and it shows no signs of abating.
Any number of examples could be cited. The same dynamic plays out on virtually every issue: there's the virulent far-right position, funded by deep-pocketed reactionaries and pushed by talk radio, an enormous network of mutually reinforcing conservative pundits in every major media outlet, an entire cable news network (three now, really), and numerous powerful politicians in leadership positions in every branch of government. Then there's the avowedly liberal position, represented by some obscure professor or a guy in the comment section of a blog or a random placard at a protest. Then there's the "centrist" position, which is the far-right position with the edges rubbed off.
How does one establish oneself as a "centrist"? Why, by bashing the dirty hippies. After all, if you bash the virulent reactionaries, you're criticizing "real Americans" and the heartland and the baby Jesus. Everybody positions themselves by way of their distance from the -- at this point largely mythical -- dirty hippie. There's no faster route to media exposure for someone on the left that to spend every minute of the day criticizing other people on the left. Mickey Kaus. Joe Klein. Richard Cohen. Joe Lieberman. The list goes on and on.
Nowhere has this dynamic been more clear and more utterly at odds with reality than around the Iraq War. Before the war, there were people who supported war -- both the militarist right and the "liberal hawks" -- and people who opposed war without the U.N.'s imprimatur, i.e., the bulk of the country. The former were "serious" people; the latter were dirty hippies.
Well. We see how the war has gone. It's a cataclysmic disaster by every conceivable metric. The serious people were wrong about everything. Literally everything. The dirty hippies -- the great masses of the public and the very few public figures (Feingold, Gore, Kucinich) who stood with them -- were right. The war went horribly wrong for just the reasons they said it would.
So what's the dynamic now amidst the Beltway chattering classes? Where's the center? Why, it's still in the exact same place! The people who advocated for war, and who advocate for more war, and who were wrong about everything, are still the "serious" people. The people who advocated against this fiasco, and are advocating for ending it, and who were right about everything, are still the dirty hippies who never show up on cable news or in major media op-eds. Expeditious withdrawal is a fringe leftist position, despite being supported by a clear majority of the country.
In other words, the "center" has become utterly detached from facts, substance, or majority opinion. It's an insular, self-sustaining myth, all about the vanity and egos of powerful people in the Beltway clusterfuck. It's about them, their self-flattery, their exclusive club, not Iraq. For a truly parodic example of this dynamic and its incredible staying power, check out Joe Klein's blog post, wherein he informs us that OK, the dirty hippies were right about Iraq, but they still sound silly and their opponents are still more "serious." One can only marvel.
They will be harder to dethrone than even the Republicans were. But most of them are old now -- Broder, Cohen, Greenfield, etc. My guess is that our brickbats will hasten their retirements, at least a little bit. Who knows if their replacements will be any better. Time Magazine's move to give Bill Kristol a column is discouraging. But the soapboxes these gentlemen have relied upon are not as tall as they once were. And us termites continue to gnaw away at what remains.