Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Obama’s Obliviousness v. Hillary’s Intractablity

In this post, Steve Hayward noted Daniel Henniger’s recent piece on the eternal return of 1968. Hayward rightly noted Henninger’s conclusion that this return, though tiresome, is inevitable and necessary. We haven’t yet sorted out all of those battles. In response, I posted some thoughts about another key part of Henninger’s piece. Steve has asked me to re-post them here, and so I am.


The key point in Henninger’s piece, Steve, is this:

Barack Obama says these endlessly booming babies have been at it for 40 years. He’s right, though let’s note that like the War of the Roses (1455-1485), this one is waged today with the tireless recruitment of new fighters not born when the fires started in 1968.

It’s funny to reflect on how that recruitment has played itself out and important to remember that--as it continues--it both clarifies and obscures.


When Abbie Hoffman offed himself with an overdose in 1989, I was just a freshman in college. I remember our professor coming into the classroom to announce the news. We all looked at him with blank expressions. Abbie who? He explained. We just blinked. We had no idea what he was talking about. We’d never heard of this guy. Did he have any old hit records? Had he been in a movie? No? Oh. Well, so what? It all seemed very removed from our world . . . ancient history. It was stuff our parents might care about but nothing that had anything to do with us. The only reason I walked away with a mental note to find out more was because this particular professor had argued that Hoffman died like a coward. If Hoffman had really been true to his principles, the professor insisted, he would have taken a dozen or so out with him to prove his point. I found that to be a shocking statement, and one that I did not immediately understand. So the point stuck with me until I could find out more and thus understand what the professor meant. But that was the only reason I wanted to know more. Still, for a few days after the news (until I could get my hands on the relevant newspapers--we didn’t have the internet in those days!), I persisted in the mistaken belief that "Abbie" was a woman. My point is, if the events and the people of the 1960s shaped the world in which we--the generation born after the 60s--lived, we were certainly unconscious of it.

But as I began to become more engaged in politics and to follow events more closely, it became clear to me that whatever I thought of the people and the events of the 1960s, those people and those events were demanding to be important to me. They weren’t going to stop darkening my doorstep. The coming fall of communism was steeped in them. It seemed to me an obvious thing that the Soviet Union was a menacing and dangerous and oppressive place. Why would this be controversial? But I did not know anything about Vietnam. I could not understand why some people hated Ronald Reagan. But I didn’t know anything about Barry Goldwater--and very little about Richard Nixon. The policies on campus regarding race, male/female relations, and academic excellence were all formed in and informed by an era that had passed before I had been born. As my fellow students and I tried to examine them apart from any knowledge of that era, we were stumped. The more we argued from abstract principles of right and wrong, the more we were encountered with patronizing voices who insisted that we "did not understand" because we had not lived through the difficult days that had shaped these policies. I began to see that the core issues of my time were not going to be shaped in my time. They were going to be the unresolved issues of the generation that preceded mine. I would have to come to grips with it. But how?

This nagging thought crystallized in my mind during the the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings. In those hearings, all of the sacred cows and sanctimonious rhetoric that had shaped my mainstream political instruction from birth (i.e., the mantras of the 60s that were like air and water to me) were engaged in a great battle to the death--not against some obvious tower of injustice like the KKK or forced segregation--but against each other. I could see that those who protested the loudest for racial and gender equality were running out of real enemies. They were left grasping for their own power and, thus, turned on their so-called "allies." I saw people being used and ill-used to advance hollow agendas. It did not seem to have anything to do with the truth and the subtleties of human existence. It was a narcissistic parade . . . a pagan race to sacrifice to the strongest god. And it was repulsive. I lost my innocent unthinking respect for my elders that year. Now those who got it would have to earn my respect. I saw that I would have to understand the events that shaped their thinking, but I did not have to accept their understanding of those events. Now I was suspicious of it. The more abstract and innocent ideas I had held about justice and injustice were not as irrelevant as I had been tempted to believe in the wake of all the information I lacked. Getting caught up in events could be dangerous and stultifying. We need to understand our history to understand our politics. But we need to understand justice in order to judge it.


All of this is a long way to a short point--but perhaps it is illustrative to those who pre-date my generation a bit. It may explain why those in my generation are, like Obama, reluctant warriors in these old fights. We are a bit tired of the patronizing exasperation of our elders who insist that we "do not understand" because "you weren’t there" . . . (thank God, at least, for that!) I disagree with almost all of Obama’s conclusions about politics--but the reason I understand his appeal is that, like him, I am weary of re-treading the tired old battles of my parents’ generation (though I concede that Henninger is right to point out that many over 50 are sick of it too). There are many days when I’d like the accumulated weight of their history and their politics to just "go away" so we could get down to brass tacks and start anew. Unlike Obama, however, I am resigned to the fact that this cannot be. Obama may think he is new and fresh and all about transcending those old battles but--in truth, whether he accepts it or not--he’s really just working to reignite and convolute them. (Just as those youthful warriors of 1968 reignited and convoluted the battles of their parents and grandparents.) He is the youth candidate. He is the naive candidate who--like me in 1989--thinks that nothing preceding and pre-dating his consciousness ought to have any bearing on his life or his politics. There is a certain sense in which this is right--but it is not (and should not be believed to be) simply so. Hillary may be a tired old sack--utterly wrapped up in the prejudices and history of her glory days--but Obama is a fool who thinks pretending it isn’t relevant makes it irrelevant. And the irony is that he nothing so much as the reincarnation of that generation’s rebellion. He is their most perfect son--or their Frankenstein. The 50+ crowd that created him now feels a kind of obligation to "kill" him, as he has been obliged to try and "kill" them. The enthusiastic boomers have become the thing they once they claimed most to deplore--the "establishment." I suppose it was inevitable . . . they are all now well over 30.

Discussions - 9 Comments

Fantastic comment, Julie. I had an extended discussion with a friend this morning about the Barack v. Hillary situation. Your comment [The 50+ crowd that created him now feels a kind of obligation to kill him, as he has been obliged to try and kill them.] highlights a problem likely unseen by much of America but very much bubbling in the black community -- people don't know what to think of how they feel about this guy, and they don't know what to think of their feeling vis-a-vis how white folks view him.

I hope that makes sense. Stated differently, Barack Obama is about as white bread as white bread can get in the black community.

If you're following what I'm saying, this need to kill Obama by the Clinton crowd is going to be (if done at all, and I have my doubts) very tricky. I suspect the Clinton plan has always been to bolster Obama for the sole purpose of making him Vice-Presidential.

But -- in a weird kind of way, the wider community that [using your terminology] has given birth to Barack Obama and now, in this political season, needs to kill him may add a more important, if unintended, casualty to its tally -- especially if Obama catches fire and has to be brutally put down.

Will 2008 be the year that the Democrats truly begin to lose their nearly 50-year-death-grip on the black community? All because the Clinton machine tried to stage-manage the rise of a cherry-picked proxy who became too popular, too fast?

Wishful thinking, to be sure, but supremely good speculation if I say so myself. It wasn't just a 60's Baby Boomer generation that was born way back then. The "good white massa (Democrats), bad white massa (Republicans)" dialectic was also put into play then. And that canard can't live forever, can it?

Julie and RattleGator, very interesting comments...touching upon uncertain and unquantifiable speculations about the zietgeist, even to the point of getting into Freudian analysis of our politics.

To bring the Freud a little closer to home, this middle-aged Gen-Xer who has had his share of trouble getting a decent job/career, and who often has found Boomers, and sometimes a few of their liberal pieties, standing in the way of such, has been feeling more and more fed up with these folks. My anger is not so much regarding my own life, as my own faults have been my primary barriers, and as I have never felt really affected by race-based affirmative action(gender's another story), but it is really a kind of CULTURAL and increasingly POLITICAL anger. WHY do these people get to dominate and define the scene so?

Now to the genuinely moderate and conservative boomers, this doesn't really apply, because I don't see you as real boomers. You are more this odd connection to the past, perhaps to the future. When some of you, like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, challenge the official Boomer history of what happened, you become turned, drip by MSM drip, into a synonymn for liars. You have an equal vote, but voice-wise, you really just don't count. Or you get to only in sealed-off-from-the-adult-conservation RED-STATE AMERICA.

I'd like to hear others on this, on the moderate/conservative Gen-X reaction to Boomers and our current politics, but here I'll throw out my TOP-TWELVE (ten was far from enough!) list of Boomer traits that drive me CRAZY:

12) Boomers gushing on and on and on about how much they LOVE the diversity of some neighborhood, or school, or whatever...feeling all wonderful about themselves because they had a little chat with a young someone who looks like and talks like Barak Obama.

11) Boomers like John Hughes making movies about my generation and how we're totally cool about casual sex...Sixteen Candles is the WORST on this score...totally patronizing.

10) Boomers talking about WHAT AMERICA IS, and attributing the ideas of basically the Port Huron Statement or the Lawrence v. Texas majority to the Founders. See the current awful 150th anniversary issue of the Atlantic.

9) Boomers presenting some dichotomy like "How can Christians pose a choice between moral values and social justice?" or "How can we defend our liberty by diminishing our freedoms?" as if this were some profound bit of hard-earned wisdom.

8) What Vietnam Taught Us and never ever, WHY WE WERE WRONG (even after their liberal elders had also been wrong, and then by the late 40s corrected themselves) ABOUT THE USSR AND THIRD-WLD COMMUNISM.

7) ANY statement that includes the word "Nixon." Yes, awful president, lessons to be learned, but studies show that liberal boomer-brains become 30% more intellectually torpid everytime they utter or hear those two syllables.

6) Reverence paid rock stars, films, fashions, or "movement" political moments, as "Classic," or worse, "Revolutionary." I actually am very interested the mid-to-late 60s rock but such words remind me of the worst of PBS, and I will FLEE.

5) Seeing boomers whom I can tell are way wealthy compared to me, dressed in some vaguely rural, ethnic, or proletarian-esque way.

4) Boomer workplace combination of managerial jargon-word "analysis" with PC rules. The worst of both worlds.

3) Boomer managerial application of diversity mandates on everyone younger than they. Obviously, this doesn't apply to blacks, who for the purposes of this list, aren't really boomers. Another word is needed to capture the civil-rights-establishment orthodoxy RattlerGator wonders about, which as aggravating to younger folks as any tired elite must be, cannot annoy younger whites like myself the way the true Boomer does, the one who went counter-culture in the late 60s, got a job in the 70s before affirmative action and admissions-feminism kicked in, and who thus got white/male privilege to the max, and then made the rest of us run through every diversity or quantify-the-excellence hoop in the book, so they could feel swell about their commitment to social justice.

2) ANY boomer-liberal version of, "the world is now going to hell in a handbasket" that so much as mentions the name Bush.

1) Boomer blindness, EVEN NOW, about the social cost of their collective actions, particularly as demonstrated in their high-toned worry about or derision directed toward some present-day corrective to the moral chaos unleashed by the 60s/70s, say, chastity-promotion, or school uniforms, or Bill Cosby's "Come on People" critique, (okay, I guess now establishment blacks are boomers! I ain't claiming this rant has consistency!), or, we might say, the increasing embrace of evangelical Christianity. That they can still mock, or dismiss as Reactionary, these at times desperate, and often desparately needed, correctives, just says it all.

Some of this is way too cranky and simplisitic, but there it is. Nor do I really think I have captured the things that bug me most.

And the horrible truth about Obama that Julie and RattlerGator touch upon, is that, thru not much fault of his own, he is the creation of the sort of Boomers that I despise. Even their own ideological progeny are sick of them, if in a differnt way. And yet he is somehow supposed to be the change from them.

Julie's point about aging, posturing hippies, still trying to affect the "ideals" of their anti-establishment youth, is perfect material for Republican commercials. Look at her husband for instance, still trying to live out the ideals of the endless Summer of love, helped along of course by copious consumption of Viagra.

But of course we have to have somebody with the wit, the savvy and the humour to see it, devise those commercials, and run 'em.

I once read a story of a group in New Jersey, I forgot what they were called, but their motto was: "The 'Sixties, make it die in your lifetime...."

But I didn’t [don't] know anything about Barry Goldwater

I suppose that some of my political naivete is still lingering because I actually had not even considered the interesting possibilities discussed by Rattlegator in comment 1. I hadn't even thought about Obama as the black candidate put out by the Democratic establishment . . . hmmmmm . . . he's right, that could be interesting. But I hope that Republicans do not try to get too clever and play it that way. While I would love to see more black voters choose to vote Republican, the main reason I would like to see that is less because it would secure a Republican victory (though it certainly would) but more because it would indicate a move away from our politics being so focused on the question of who is "for" the black man. (As if there could be a serious position "against" him.) I am more tired of such "group think" than I am tired of any other part of the 60s generation's politics. I would hope that such a move, if it should come, would not come because of any perceived Democratic conspiracy against Obama--because I think they'd do the same thing to him even if he were white (or Asian, or Mexican or whatever). He's a threat that they created and that they can't handle. When you are an anti-establishment party, what happens when you become the establishment? Obama is preaching that they should commit suicide. He may be naive, but he's intellectually consistent (as long as he proposes to do the same thing once he becomes the "establishment"). No, this isn't because he's black--tempting as it is to point to other REAL negative racial attitudes that Democratic policy fosters. But that's too easy. I want black voters to choose to vote Republican because it is the right thing for them to do--or not, as they each individually see it. Of course, I think that would give Republicans the decided advantage among black voters as it should among all voters at large. My fondest wish is that we would stop talking about our fellow citizens in terms of their race . . . but sadly, I realize I may never live to see that day. But that's one part of my naivete that I stubbornly refuse to change.

Democratic Debate in Las Vegas-Obama's Turn

What is it about the issue of driver's licenses for illegal aliens that gives Democrats so much pause? To me, it is a no-brainer-a lousy idea. To them, it's all so complex and confusing. For the last two weeks, Barack Obama has torn into Hillary Clinton for her inability to give a straight answer to that question in the Philadelphia debate. Then, he turns around and outdoes her.

After Hillary's debacle in Philadelphia, she spent the next two weeks changing her position on the issue, digging herself deeper in the process. First, she supported Governor Spitzer. Next, she said it should be left to the states. Finally, as Spitzer announced this week that he was dropping the plan, she has now come out against drivers licenses for illegal aliens. (You don't think she and her campaign put any pressure on Spitzer to drop the plan do you?)

So after going to school on Hillary's gaffe for two weeks, Obama comes out and outdoes her on the very same issue. First, he opened up with an attack on Clinton that went like this:

"What the American people are looking for right now is straight answers to tough questions, and that is not what we have seen from Senator Clinton on a host of issues."

But when Wolf Blitzer directed the same question to Obama, he proceeded to twist himself into knots, stating that when he was in Illinois, he supported training for illegal aliens, licenses,...., public safety issue, etc...., and Bush has failed to......., and this and that and the other thing. If you think Clinton did badly in Philly two weeks ago, that was nothing compared to Obama. Finally, Blitzer pointed out that it was a yes or no question- Did he support it or not, to which Obama finally answered, "Yes." Handed the same question, Clinton said, "No". Of course, Blitzer passed on a great chance for a follow up question to Hillary on her evolving positions.

Hillary also was prepared with a few pre-packaged one-liners that fell in with the anticipated topics. She said that she was not being attacked because she was a woman, but because she was ahead. Or how about this one; "I'm not playing the gender card here in Las Vegas. I'm trying to play the winning card." Cute. Then there was this hardball from a female member of the audience:

"Which do you prefer, diamonds or pearls?".

Hillary, of course, knocked it out of the park- stating that since so many people were claiming she had problems making choices, that she would take them both. (Was anyone seen handing the young lady a slip of paper before she rose to ask her question?)

From that point, the debate quickly calmed down to a drone. Another difficult question for the candidates was whether Human Rights or National Security was the higher priority. Bill Richardson chose human rights. Obama stated that the two concepts "were not contradictory". Meanwhile most of the other candidates stood around patiently waiting to be asked a question so they could answer said question by talking about how Bush had messed up on the particular issue.

Predictably, after the debate, the CNN talking heads were beside themselves talkng about Hillary's great performance ("Hillary's back!!!") Great performance? Because Obama screwed up? Because she gave a new answer on the drivers license issue that was completely different from what she said in Philadelphia? True, she didn't step in it this time, but that doesn't mean it was a great performance.

As for Obama, the consensus was that Obama is not good in debates, but does much better in his own speaking appearances, blah, blah, blah. Nonsense. Obama is an empty suit who has no qualifications for being president, just like Clinton, just like Edwards (who flew to LA after the debate so he could march on the TV writers' picket lines today. Maybe Edwards never thought about other lowly workers in the TV industry whose own work is being lost due to this strike-the "Other America" if you will).

To this obviously biased observer, there was nothing surprising in this debate. Maybe next time, someone will ask Dennis Kucinich about his views on drivers licenses for illegal aliens. The guy may be a far-left kook, but at least he is honest about what he is and straightforward on his views. If asked that question, he might just pledge that if nominated, he would have an illegal alien for his running mate.

Thoughtful post, Julie. I'm reminded of this guy who both battled and led Boomers:

"Too often, the president [Carter] is advised by men and women who are forever trapped in the tragic but still fresh memory of a lost war. And from Vietnam they have drawn all the wrong lessons. When they say "never again," they mean the United States should never again resist Communist aggression.

In saying "never again," implying that the war should have been lost -- that it is all right for the victors to conduct a brutal campaign against their own people, violating even minimal human rights.

That it is alright to ignore these massive violations and alright for us to seek better relations with the governments responsible. That White House document lists as an "accomplishment" the fact that "the administration has started the process of normalizing relations" with the Communist conquerors of South Vietnam. The lesson we should have learned from Vietnam is that never again will Americans be asked to fight and die unless they are permitted to win."--Ronald Reagan, "America's Purpose in the World"

This was spoken in the context of criticizing Carter's "Human Rights Above All" policy--which Bill Richardson tried to resurrect last night. I wonder if he knew it? Or realized the cognitive dissonance of supporting democratic & civil rights everywhere...except in Iraq?

I'm selfishly glad this string of comments hasn't gotten much attention, because my comment above is just a bit too mean-spirited and thus smug for its own good. It's not really me and I wish I hadn't written it. I don't disown the more substantial ideas it contains, which is few enough, but I do disown its spirit . Now back to the musings about Obama, about the man who really will wind up having a strange relationship, if he can win, with the boomer-liberals to whom he will owe so much.

[1]
Personally, I loved your rant Carl.

I didn't read it as mean, I read it as heartfelt. Anything that genuinely raw is going to have some sharp edges. And we need to be able to deal with discussions that have honest, sharp edges. I wish you hadn't backed away from any of it.

[2]
Julie, I echo the sentiments in your follow-on comment. The beauty of the Obama situation, however, is that Republicans will not need to be too clever by half or "play" anything on this issue. It already reverberates in the black community.

[3]
The political discourse in this country improves greatly when the death-grip held by the Democrats over the black community is broken. That may require white Republicans calling into question the absolute abandonment in the 1960's by the black community of "our" historic political party, the Party of Lincoln.

White Republicans should not be afraid to flip the script on this point and challenge individual black voters on that very bad 1960's decision to not help build a black presence in both major political parties but, instead, focus on the Democrats.

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