Michael Maiello's picture

    The Spirit of 68

    You don't need me to recount the week of police-violence and resulant lone wolf terrorism, so let's just stipulate that you all read and watch the news.  In New York Magazine, Johnathan Chait assures us "It Is Not 1968." It's a well done essay but somehow when Chait says something declarative, I suspect it just isn't entirely true.  At Talkingpointsmemo, Josh Marshall has been flirting with the idea that if it isn't a 1968 for a moment, it certainly rhymes.

    Many Talking Points readers, politically active during that time, have written it to tell Josh that events were more extreme.  Police were more brutal. Black Panthers were not as friendly as Black Lives Matter protesters.  Trump is an amateur compared to Wallace.  At Dag we have contributors who were also politically active during that time, and so I look forward to seeing their perspective.  We are also, I am proud to note (though I had nothing to do with it) not a completely white bunch and so I look forward to other perspectives here as well.

    My brief take on the 1968 debate is that if it isn't 1968 now, maybe it should be.  Policing needs to change. The crime epidemic of the latter 20th century is long over.  Military police units are no longer called for.  The economic conditions that have led to enormous disparities in wealth and influence need to change.  An informed population demands more say in its own governance.  The U.S. needs to stand down from its outward posture of war.  The Dallas assassin was a military veteran, not only trained in combat tactics but practiced.

    When people talk about 1968 they're talking about a country on the brink of social dissolution.  What I'm not seeing is the acknowledgement that such chaos and disorder had been well earned after the U.S. had conscripted young men to fight two unnecessary wars in Asia.  Whatever the excesses of 1968, the result was civil rights advances and an end to the draft.  In 2016 we need to take the next steps.  By all means, let it be 1968 again, in spirit at least.  The social tensions around us are a symptom of the country's problems, not the cause. Same was true then.

    But I don't want to lecture. Look forward to hearing from more of you.



    I'm not quite old enough to remember 68. I was 11 that year. I can only comment based on the history I've read and the current analysis that's taking place now. I guess I come down on the side of it's not 1968. But 68 did not appear like Minerva, springing from the brow of Jupiter in adult form complete with a full array of weapons. Perhaps it's 1962. The question is will we have to go full 1968 before we deal with the problems we face or can we pull back from the brink before then.

    I think you're right. It might be 1962. I also liked the way you said it.  You have a way with Minerva!

    I remember the time as a young man during which I was mostly scared shitless because I had a draft card that I was certain meant that I was going to die in Indochina soon. I wasn't making the effort at the time to understand much more than that.

    The violence unleashed upon citizens at that time prompted many changes in law and procedure. In that sense, I think we are at another threshold of decision as a polity to find the next door to step through. 

    What is really different now is the condition of identity politics. It was simpler when the people pushed out simply wanted in. The inside has its own problems now.

    I appreciate that Josh addressed his own identity when he said:
    "This is what I mean by how or whether one's political identity is bound up in one's whiteness or to be more precise whether it is bound up with the political and social dominance of white people. If you do see things through that prism the apocalyptic worldview of many Trumpites starts to make a good deal of sense. For many more, it isn't the end of the world but it is a source of persistent and sometimes intense anxiety."
    This analysis makes sense explaining what is happening to a certain group of white people but is not exactly a challenge to the causes of institutional racism. It is not only about changes in majority.

    Anyway, I think what happened in Dallas is more akin to what happened in Oklahoma City because of Waco than LA, Detroit, or Chicago back in the day.
    People trained to perform missions are perfectly capable of giving themselves one.

    People trained to perform missions are perfectly capable of giving themselves one.

    This is going to be a problem. A minority of out citizens have been at war since 2001. We barely acknowledge that there is a war in our daily lives. So we have done very little to bring people back home in a manner that helps them adapt.

    We lived on Maui in 1967, when the Detroit riots happened, and in 1968, when both MLK and RFK were assassinated.  From that distance those events, though sad and scary, seemed surreal and almost unbelievable.  By the time the convention came around in August, we were back in Michigan but I was weary of it all, still grieving, and saw the chaos as the kind of theater we didn't need and couldn't afford.  I felt torn; I could sympathize with the Vietnam protesters but still be angry at the convention disruption.  I worried that Humphrey, McGovern and the others were the good guys and this kind of thing could only harm them. 

    The riots and the clashes with the Chicago police, the puffery of Mayor Daley, the articulate, often poignant calls to end the war by Hayden and Hoffman and the others put me on the side of the protesters, but I was still afraid it would damage the Dem candidates.  I can't be sure it was why Humphrey lost, and I'm not convinced it did anything to hasten the end of the war, but nothing like it had happened in my lifetime, and it happened in a year when we were already jarred by the worst kind of senseless violence.  I don't think we've ever gotten over it.

    I guess we're lucky that, in this case, the Democratic Party isn't the focus of the protests.  We're running a candidate with strong support from diverse communities. 

    1968's aftermath is what led to now.

    Nixon gave many of Reagan's and Bush's staff their entry into national political life.

    Reagan, Bush the Elder, and Bush the Younger are all consequences of a year that seemed exciting (in an admittedly dangerous way) at the time, and that I have no eagerness to see again.

    Repeating: Our current mess is attributable to 1968.

    Do.  Not.  Want.

    They got rid of the draft.  That alone advanced the cause of humanity to make 1968 worth it, I'd say.

    Or not. Activism in the 60s was driven in part by the fact that even the rich and powerful might be or see a son conscripted. Also justice would seem to mandate that all healthy young adult citizens face the possibility of military service if elected representatives decide on war.


    Are you sure about that? I don't see that change impacting decisions to wage war, just who does the waging.

    Exactly.  Today, the great majority of those who kill and die aren't the offspring of reasonably well-compensated folks who publish articles and plays.

    What Hal said.

    Having a draft didn't prevent elites from starting unnecessary wars so I'd just as soon not have conscription at all.

    The draft was a big reason for the massive protests on university campuses that led to the end of the Vietnam War.  We have had far fewer and less massive rallies against the Middle East wars - perhaps because scions of the rich and powerful and the middle-class are never forced to put their own lives and those of others at risk. 

    In addition, as noted earlier, it is morally indefensible to rely on poor and working-class people to kill and die while those with some measure of economic freedom skate.

    In addition, as noted earlier, it is morally indefensible to rely on poor and working-class people to kill and die while those with some measure of economic freedom skate.

    The draft was never really applied fairly in an economic sense.  College deferments, chances to join the Coast Guard, and non-combat assignments for the well-connected were all in play during the Korean and Viet Nam conscriptions.  While I agree with you that it's immoral to rely on poor and working class people to kill and die, it's also immoral to rely on unwilling combatants from any walk of society when our leaders decide to march to war.

      The solution to the immorality of Bushes and Clintons avoiding service while Jacksons and Callaghans could not was not to end the draft but to end the student deferments and political arm-twisting that let many off the hook.  The solution to bad leaders who wrongly decide to march to war is to elect good leaders.  That task becomes more difficult when the kids of people who write editorials and decide whether to bomb other countries into the stone age aren't at risk.

      Not taking that risk with my kid.  No politician who suggests a return to conscription would ever get my vote.

      I told my sons that I would shoot them in the foot before I would let them get drafted.  One was delighted. The other was very unhappy with me.  

      Lemme guess - #2 was the one you plugged?

      Very funny!  (Really). He is such an intrinsically honorable person.  He views everything the way I taught them to do:  "Is it the right thing to do?  Are you OK with everyone doing this?"  

      I have to admit that sometimes I am less than "honorable" when I take advantage of age-related things I don't really need, and more recently, extra breaks as a military wife, etc.  He is a "better man than I am."


      You're a hero.

      Lol.  I told my son if he ever got called up we would be moving to Canada.  He said, "That'll be my decision, not yours."  Thankfully, it never came up again.  By the time he came of age the Vietnam war was over.

      Good for you, Mona. Anybody tries to send my son to war, I'll take over a bird watching depot in the Pacific Northwest until they stop.

      Nobody's son or daughter should ever have to go.  Send the old guys, the decision-makers.  See how fast all wars come to a screeching halt.

      I was 20 in 1968 and had one more year of nursing school.  It was a small residential school and I lived on the third floor of the dormitory.  Nursing was a pretty intense experience for a 20 year-old; at that time most of us had little experience with the world -- I had been brought up in a very conservative home, and my job had always been to just be what my parents expected me to be -- obedient, quiet, and not in any way demanding.  The only "political" discussion I can recall was my father saying that Simon and Garfunkel were anti-government.  OK, it really wasn't a discussion because, well, there pretty much weren't discussions in my house..

      I saw body parts I'd never imagined before; I saw old people dying of diseases I hadn't previously heard of, and children who had painful illnesses; and we had to soak it all in with no preparation -- and we had to clean everything up without ever using gloves!  Almost nothing was disposable, so keeping my last meal down as I cleaned up bedpans and more was a daily challenge.  There was so much to cope with on a daily basis that I believe I shut off everything else.  I wasn't pro-War; I wasn't anti-War.  I was just a very young woman facing more serious reality than I knew was out there.

      I bring this up because I think it is the reason I was so clueless about what was going on in the world and my country during that time.  I do remember that when MLK was assassinated I walked into the 3rd floor lounge room where there was a TV.  It was on and the news anchor was talking about it.  The young black man who was the maintenance man was standing there, leaning on his broom, and crying.  The image is easy to evoke even after all this time.  Kent State made an impression on all of us (people who were in school).

      As mentioned in the TPM post, the war was in everyone's living rooms every night.  It was personal.  Everyone knew someone who went; many people knew someone who died, and most people knew the stories about those who got deferments, or who claimed to be gay to get out of going to war.

      In my case, in 1968 my former high school boyfriend was a helicopter pilot (previously a door-gunner), and he would always include a little bit of Vietnam dirt in each letter.  (I still have some of that dirt).  Whe we broke up I dated a marine, just back from a brutal tour.   2 high school friends died (probably others that I lost track of as well).  I was either in denial, or consciously remained oddly unconnected to all of it.  

      I do remember (vaguely) the convention, but I wasn't a Democrat at the time, and I just thought of it as bad behavior and dismissed all of it.  I voted for Nixon because my parents did.  I guess I am almost glad that he got elected because I watched every single minute of the Watergate Trial (I was working nights at the time.) And only then did I begin to wake up.   Fast forward to August 1974.  I was in the Kennedy Center on the night of the 4th, watching the Bolshoi Ballet.  During a set change, the performance was stopped, a huge movie screen was lowered and, to everyone's surprise, we all saw Nixon's resignation in real time.  

      The Cold War was still on, and my thoughts centered around what a good example this was for the Russians who were there watching too.  Michael Baryshnikov defected later that year to Canada.

       Differences between now and 1968 are the Internet, the entire social media, and the loss of cultural standards among the majority of people to be polite.  Anyone can post insulting posts that are easy and inflammatory, as well as anonymous.  Everything has the potential to "go viral" and thereby become a "meme."  

      In 1968, if our government did something good, such as make health insurance affordable, or end a war, people would be grateful rather than suspicious and resentful about it.  And I think it may be true that those who would wish to take those good things away would lose their power.

      That is fascinating.  Beautifully written, too.  My own liberal politics came about from Republican misbehavior.  In my case it was the Clinton impeachment that woke me up.  So I was stirred by impeachers and you were stirred by the impeached.

      Thanks,  I didn't know where I was going when I started writing.  In case you missed it from a blog that Quinn started, that helicopter pilot and I got back together after 50 years and we got married one year ago.  We  just went to a reunion of his outfit 2 weeks ago and he met up with someone he had always wanted to apologize to for  messing up his Lou Rawls tape on his reel-to-reel tape player.  The guy was a flight engineer and my husband feels that he kept him alive with his advice and guidance..  We are looking for a good Lou Rawls CD to send him.  LOL!

      Also, I've always followed Baryshnikov's story because we share a birthday (including year), and he performed  that night in 1974.  It I my favorite ballet - Raymonda.  It is rarely performed because it requires a very large orchestra and corps de ballet as well.  I can still see that dude hovering in the air.  Wow! 

      It didn't seem like a simpler time, but looking back it does.

      My big memories of '68 are taking French and annoying my southern history class as 1 of 2 transplants who kept taking the north's side. What I didnt realize was that even though public schools had been "integrated", the city had designed it so 5 years later only 5% blacks went to white majority schools. I also remember hearing about RFK's killing as we were packing the car for vacation and staying up watching he election results. Also dressing up as a Berekely hippie for halloween with my brother worried about an older long hair neighbor kid, but he just laughed. Oh yeah, tv with body bags from vietnam.

      Oh you can lecture Mike M.

      I see 1968 clear as rime on a tree in January.

      I kept thinking that:

      The end is nigh.

      No it wasn't

      Tens of millions of young folks were eligable for the draft.

      Involuntary servitude as it were.

      Gene would save us all after RFK was shot and killed.

      Hubert, who was my hero, was led on by my enemy Mayor Dayly.


      Oh I had to add this....this that is so losted....

      I am old enough to remember ‘68 which was the year I turned 21. I was officially an adult which if true might have come in handy, but that was the year I was on the Magical Mystery Tour in a perverted  zone of altered reality called Eyecore where social dissolution, chaos, and disorder were not something to fear happening if the brink were in fact gone over, those escapees from Pandora’s box were the normal companions all around me every day.

      I just missed the United States version of the ‘exceptional’ year of ‘68 by a hair. I got back to the world and a wake-up on January ninth of ‘69. I celebrated with a cold beer and a shot of Bourbon. I am doing it again right this instant and for the foreseeable future, which is about two hours. Cheers to everyone.

      Why do I respond to this?

      Ha, I do not know

      You were there. hahahaha

      Hi Lulu.

      A beer and a shot, takes away bad feelings.

      Hey D.D. muchas gracias, and I like that song a lot.

      Excellent. Driftglass on which Party and which President has worked to fix the nation's problems. In his critique of David Brooks latest attempt to cover up his complicity in giving America the Party of Trump, and MSM, where what Driftglass calls The Holy Words of Both Siderism are all that are spoken in the Beltway Media Temple.

      "Actually, we have a leader right now who came from relatively humble circumstances. Who worked for the betterment of the disadvantaged, rose to a position of great power and was elected with large margins twice. Who faced some of the worst foreign and domestic crises in a century, made some mistakes, offered compromise and conciliation at every turn and stayed remarkably calm and even-keeled through all of it. 

      And for the last seven and a half years, your fucking party, Mr. Brooks, has dedicated itself openly and single-mindedly to slandering, delegitimatizing and destroying his ability to govern by any means necessary[.]

      It was the last week of December of 51 and I was walking across the bitterly cold parade ground at Ft. Dix with X. Smart , well educated, burly , profane , sure of himself -apparently. A leader. Usually exasperated with George in the bunk above his . Their last set- to resulted in X pinning down George who said " I've got you

      X , I've got your knee trapped in my groin"  and X groaning  and releasing him with the  heartfelt plaint "Fucking George L...."

      His  bunk was 4 down from mine and I'd just finished reading his copy of  "The God that failed": RHS Crossman's compilation of the accounts by various intellectuals -Richard Wright, Andre Gide, Silone ,etc.- of why they left the party

      ."Why aren't you going to OCS (officer candidate school) " I asked him . I was. 

      "I don't know how I'll handle combat" he said . "And if I can't  I don't want to put anyone else at risk" .

      Fast forward 20 years. Returning to live in New York I was amused to read that X was the head

      of "Wall Street for McGovern".

      Some time later I had lunch at his bank. The very junior associate ,as we walked along  the balcony over the trading  floor, pointed down and , in awe, said and that's Mr.X.  "I know" I unwisely replied which resulted in being  dragged down to meet him. HIs desk was on a podium of a long room with  about 50 traders . Every few  minutes one or another of them would stand up and make a signal asking X's approval for a transaction and he'd make some sort of sign in return , leaning back in a swivel chair, feet on desk.

      We went down.  He was bearded, the partition  next to him decorated with doves and other peace symbols.

      "Hi X " I said. "The last time  we talked you said you didn't know how you would handle combat". I'd heard that my basic company had arrived in Korea exactly at the time of the last major Chinese advance. "What happened ?"

      He gave me a searching look ,said " Oh yes" , then "The second time I had to take my company commander back to the chaplain I stopped worrying about myself".

      Time passed and X became head of his bank.

      I think of him when I read that our economic malaise could be cured by breaking up the banks. And that  it was shameful that Hillary actually addressed  Goldman Sachs . Shocking ! AOBTW  why hasn't someone reported what she said? Could it be  because "there's no 'there' there" ?



      Democrat Prez candidate McGovern was swiftboated by the 1970's GOP as a 'peacenik' commie loving hippie socialist. (He was critical of the Vietnam War.)

      That he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal  for service in 35 combat missions as bomber pilot over Nazi Germany, and served time in the House and Senate, did not convince idiot American voters otherwise.

      He was of course clobbered in the 72 election by Tricky Dick with the new 'Republicans protect you from 'those people' and Dems are tax and spend commie traitors who want you dead' campaign strategy.

      My brother in law designed computers to design computers and was a staunch conservative from Nebraska where he walked a couple of miles to elementary school every day unless he got to ride the family horse. Bare back.

      A few months after 72 we were casually discussing our differing votes when I half-jokingly asked "but how would you feel if either of these guys lived next door?"  John's face lit up as he said "wouldn't it be great to live next door to George McGovern."

      I'm not especially moved by comparisons with other fraught moments in American history. This crisis is a crisis, on its own terms. That 1968 seemed worse at certain points doesn't mean that we will come out of *this* crisis better than we came out of 1968.

      Historical moments can't be compared like that, detail by detail, and it's naive to try.

      The fact that people like Chait have to go out of their way to reassure us, and themselves, that it's not as bad as 1968 is a sign that things are pretty damned bad.

      Well said.

      Latest Comments