Pete's Blog

Yippees and Birthers

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Here's something I submitted to another publication: I may feel like the oldest person in the world sometimes (when a student expresses amazement that I saw Led Zeppelin play the night men first walked on the moon, for example) but I know I'm not. Still, as trends, events, notions have begun repeating themselves - sometimes in pure form, sometimes with a twist - I can only wonder if everyone else is too young to see the resemblances. The flush of nihilistic entitlement we see on the Right these days looks awfully familiar to someone who went to college in the early '70s. The search for conspiracies, demonization of opposing views, and apocalyptic rhetoric we hear recalls the frenzy of the '70s' cocktail-party revolutionists in the period between Richard Nixon's election and Jimmy Carter's. There, too, you saw otherwise sensible people assume the postures of victimization, as they called for Revolution in the names of Mao, Che, Ho Chi Minh, even Stalin, and a whole range of pathological behaviors from nonsensical dinner-table rants and petulant shin-kicking right up to actual political violence: bombings, bank robberies, kidnappings. You don't have to agree with the Tea Partiers to worry that they seem poised to do to Conservatism what the Hippies did to the New Deal. When George H.W. Bush made the word "liberal" a punch-line in the 1998 election he knew that for many people the word evoked the community of spoiled, nonsensical elitists who (in Paul Krassner's memorable phrase about Jerry Rubin) "yelled for Revolution the way a kid yells for an ice cream cone." I'm no Reaganite, but it would still be shame if Reagan conservatism's legacy of thoughtful disagreement with the AFL-CIO/New Deal orthodoxy of the time devolved into a demagogic media circus, from Yippees to Birthers in 40 years.

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