Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Pendulums and Beanstalks
Last night I finished The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964, the book I mentioned yesterday. Toward the end, Jon Margolis relates the story of the birth of the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley that fall--as well as the origin of an off-the-cuff witticism that became one of the 1960s' most famous epigrams. Jack Weinberg, whose arrest in a free-speech protest led to a 24-hour sit-in by students around the police car holding him, told a reporter that there was a saying in the movement--"Never trust anyone over 30." There wasn't--Weinberg just made it up on the spot--but "within days," Margolis writes, "it was the most quoted sentence in America." And then he goes on to say, "Taking it literally, many teenagers and young adults had themselves a new slogan, one that helped render them and their future political activity adolescent, if not infantile." I think Margolis is a bit too hard on the political activists of the 1960s. Not all of the movement's members, or its goals and methods, were adolescent and infantile, although some certainly were.

The under-30 kids of the mid-1960s are parents and grandparents now. Many are still politically active, as are their children and grandchildren. And some of their political activity remains adolescent and infantile. I got an e-mail over the weekend that was stuffed with left-leaning links all purporting to show that John Kerry is utterly unfit to be president for various reasons--too warlike, surrounded by advisors who have supported evil regimes, far too beholden to special interests, and so on. All of which may be true to some degree. But to suggest, as such lefties inevitably do, that for those reasons, they could never ever ever vote for Kerry is--say it with me now--adolescent, if not infantile.

I am not a John Kerry fan. He was no better than my fifth choice among the candidates. I have no faith in his ability to bring any sort of real systemic change to our government and society--certainly not the kind of change other candidates, such as Dean, Clark, Edwards, or Kucinich (yes, even him) were talking about. When John Kerry talks about change, he is only talking about one kind of change--putting a different guy into the White House. But at this moment in our history, when the current resident of the White House is the most dangerous man ever to occupy it, and when his continuance in office represents a grave threat to the continued survival of our Constitutional experiment, that's the only change that matters. The anti-Kerry left is essentially insisting that if they can't have everything they want, right down to bomber jet planes turning into butterflies above our nation, they don't want anything at all. In this, they're not much different than a petulant 16-year-old girl who, if she can't get the car she wants, doesn't want any car at all. "Let Bush get reelected," they say. "Then people will see how bad things can get, and they'll be more interested in voting for us next time." Which is the same thing the Naderite left said in 2000. They were right about one thing--we've seen how bad things can get--but wrong about the other thing. Given what's happened since 2000, shouldn't a candidate more to their liking have gotten more traction this time? It didn't happen--at least not on the scale they expected. But in their narcissism, they keep thinking some sort of titanic progressive earthquake must be just around the corner--mostly because they really really really want it to be, not because there's any evidence that change will actually come in that way.

What we're talking about here is a swing of the pendulum back to the left. It's been going right for 40 years, if you start counting with the Goldwaterites of 1964, so any swing leftward isn't going to happen like magic. It will have to happen a little at a time at first. And I submit that it's starting to happen. We've seen some of it as the Democratic campaign has unfolded--evidence that major candidates are starting to understand that progressive ideas are still popular among the electorate, and evidence that the electorate can see through Republican attempts to demonize anything remotely progressive. This evidence is little shoots that have to be nurtured. They don't shoot to the sky overnight like Jack's beanstalk. And they will certainly be destroyed--along with lots of other stuff--in the scorched earth that will follow the reelection of George W. Bush.

There ain't much reasoning with the anti-Kerry left, though. The best we can hope for is that they won't succeed in contaminating more thoughtful voters with their toxic brand of adolescent nonsense.

On the subject of Kerry, I was amused to hear Bush accuse him last night of being "irresponsible" for his vote against a 1995 intelligence funding bill. If Bush wants to make responsibility an issue, well, bring it on. The most fiscally irresponsible president in history brings up the subject of responsibility at his peril.

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