Or how the New Left Movement became the Establishment
The Generation that wouldn't trust anyone over thirty de-evolved into the generation that didn't trust anyone under 30. They (we) invented the "New Left", "Third Way," "New Democrats" and attacked our parents generation of politicians as "establishment", as "out of touch" and in return many of our parents generation turned on us. The New Left abandoned interest in economic progress for working people and focused on gay rights, pacifism and "fighting the establishment."
What happened to the New Left?
The New left fractured over new issues. These issues included:
- The Anti War Movement
- Women's Movement, Gay Rights and Radicalized Civil Rights
- The Values Movement
The New Left Peace Movement
In the 60's We attacked New Deal and Post New Deal Politicians as "war mongers" for supporting anti-communism and getting sucked into the Vietnam war. Our leaders included John Kerry who blasted the Army for it's hypocritical policies in limiting the ability of main line soldiers to fight the Viet Cong while at the same time fielding Special Ops folks who were keeping ears as trophies and torturing people to get information. He led a Veterans for Peace movement.
In 1968 Richard Nixon launched his "Peace with Honor" campaign as part of his presidential campaign. He had the Right Wing Alternative Foreign Policy folks sabotaging Lyndon Baine's Johnson's Paris Peace negotiation by offering the South Vietnamese a better deal if they stalled on a settlement with the North. At the same time he talked about a secret plan to end the war. He won election by flipping some naive pacifists to vote for him and letting the young attack the very liberal Hubert Humphrey as a War-Monger for being associated with Johnson. He then immediately expanded the war rather than ending it and started using the police and national guard to suppress demonstrations.
The result was a sense of betrayal by many young folks, who were radicalized by assassinations, official violence and the escalation of the war. Nixon also took steps to end the draft. Phasing in the "Volunteer Army" to replace an army where conscripts were sent to fight. There was a peak of demonstrations against the war that ended when the Draft was abolished. Anti-War Activists turned their attentions to other issues; Marijuana legalization, Gay Rights and women's rights. These new issues were also more contentious.
Non Violence and Bernie Sanders
Another of our young future leaders was Bernie Sanders, who participated in the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), marched with some of the Civil Rights events in Chicago and went to DC to hear Martin Luther King speak. He left CORE to live on a Kibbutz, moved to Vermont in 1964 and eventually wound up as Mayor of Vermont and a Social Democrat politician.
I always wondered why he stopped supporting CORE and the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee activities after he left Chicago. But the reality is that both SNVCC and CORE became radicalized late in the 60s. With Core, the new direction was formally set by Floyd McKissick in 1966 and even more radically by Roy Innis and his group of radical "reformers" who broke with James Farmer's vision of "an inclusive approach for ending racial segregation and discrimination in society in 1968. They started removing white folks from the organization in 1965.
Innis turned CORE into a Nationalistic and ultimately Right wing Organization:
"In June 1968, a slate of Black Nationalist leaders won election to the leadership of CORE with Innis as the new CORE chairman. Declaring the traditional civil rights era over, Innis changed the CORE constitution to ban white people from the organization, and explained that the change reflected “an era of Black Nationalism.” Innis also called for separate schools for African American children." [Intercept]
Meanwhile the same thing happened to the Student Non Violence Coordinating Committee led by Stokely Carmichael:
"In the later 1960s, led by fiery leaders such as Stokely Carmichael, SNCC focused on black power, and then protesting against the Vietnam War. As early as 1965, organization leader James Forman said he did not know “how much longer we can stay nonviolent” and in 1969, SNCC officially changed its name to the Student National Coordinating Committee to reflect the broadening of its strategies. It passed out of existence in the 1970s." [Wikipedia]
Both groups no longer were a home to white activists. In the process they lost some of their focus (integrity), much of their external money support and alienated supporters. Bernie was too polite to mention this History. But he didn't so much leave those two movements as they left him. James Farmer and Martin Luther King had embraced a vision of solidarity and collaboration with people of all religions, creeds and races. And that got abandoned in the radicalization that accompanied the assassinations of the Kennedy's and of Martin Luther King. And the shift in focus affected young Baby Boomer future politicians. The new politicians in charge were "nationalists."
In Vermont Bernie Sanders was involved in the Marijuana Legalization movement. He'd later moderate his opinions for the purpose of getting elected and eventually he became Governor of Vermont. His sticking to Old Left economic issues in his preaching reached Blue Collar workers and his support for the Second Amendment didn't hurt either. But he was able to do that because he was coming from a mountain State that has a tradition of resisting oppression. He only had to compromise a little, not a lot, to get ahead.
Values Voters and the Clintons
Bill Clinton was a protege of Senator J. William Fulbright, who was an early critic of US foreign policy and the Vietnam War. He was a student during most of the war and avoided service through college and an Oxford Scholarship. He met and married Hillary Clinton in 1975 and launched a Political career which made him Arkansas' youngest governor in 1978. His wife had interned with the Watergate Committee and they met at Stanford while both were studying law. Hillary was a champion of Womens' issues and still is.
Most women and some men can get behind issues like "Glass Ceiling" barriers to women getting important and high profile jobs. Or equal pay for equal work goals like those embodied in the Lilly Ledbetter Act. Where women's issues get thorny is on the subject of reproductive freedom. Hillary was and is an activist for womens' rights and that meant advocating for women to have a choice about their own reproductive decisions. She supported legal abortions. In 1973 the Roe Versus Wade decision had founded a woman's right to get an abortion (or access Birth Control) on the right to privacy. Or as the constitution puts it, the "right to be secure in one's person." The decision inflamed the issue. A "right to life" movement would spring up to challenge women's choice. Hillary would later come to allay the fears of the "Right to life" movement by declaring that Abortion should be "legal, available and rare". As an attorney she could frame arguments that could convince people that women deserve equal pay for equal work, make fine leaders, can do the job at any company; and she would become a popular speaker with companies seeking to keep their workforce happy and to satisfy the demands of women's movement leaders. She came to be someone who can make the equal rights case better than many others.
But the women's rights movement would come up against folks who believe that the bible ordains and commands that women not have control over their own bodies. The value of equal rights and choice would come up against a "right to life" -- which really meant no right to choice. The authoritarian types would call themselves "value voters."
The End of the draft and Stagflation in the 70s took the teeth out of the New Left. Right Wing Politicians learned to cache their racism in "values" expressions, denigrating the poor in general in a way that disarmed white poor and defamed minority poor. Right Wing Activists like Lee Atwater, playing on fear of violence and "the other," taught politicians how to use coded language and appeals to fear and emotion. The end of the draft meant that folks could be blindly patriotic again. So the appeal to traditional "values", real or invented, became a tool for business folks and authorities to fight back against the New Left in a way they never had been able to get traction on with the New Dealers. Instead of these New Lefties being avatars of working people, they were now avatars of women, minorities and gays. It was a harder sell and it would become even harder as politicians tried to find practical solutions to problems. I've blogged on the Southern Strategy and you can read more on it here;
But the point here is that the Clinton Strategy was to try to win over and accommodate the values of these "value voters" without giving up their own core values. These value supporters were voting for cons who ignored their economic issues with impunity by making appeals to "values." Liberals could not even focus on economic issues directly but had to work the margins; equal pay for equal work, environmental regulation as savings lives and money, they had to abandon support for Unions that were voting for Nixon or Ronald Reagan; and their values were now under attack as being different from one of their previous core constituencies; blue collar workers and working people in general. The Right Wing subverted or degraded pretty much any organization that focused on economic issues. Indeed pushing nationalism of any kind is a means to subvert Federalism, because it replaces a "we are all in this together" kind of Nationalism/patriotism, with a kind of tribal point of view. CORE would become a supporter of conservative causes and leaders. The Church ceased being a supporter of progressive causes for workers and society and became an opponent of women's rights, "gay rights" and other issues that working people couldn't sometimes even wrap their minds around. Liberals responded by seeking votes where they could get them and trying out various ways to respond to the challenge. Meanwhile the Right Wing rolled back New Deal reforms with the help of "New Left" or simply "Third Way" Democrats who had lost focus on protecting Working People. This happened because working people ceased supporting the people who were looking out for them and supported cons instead. If you didn't compromise with corporations, big money or focus on issues where the energy was in a strategic way a person was out of office. Even Bernie Sanders supported the Second Amendment largely because that was his constituents concern. All that started to change when the Dot Com boom went bust and even more when in 2008 the entire Trickle Down "Innocent Fraud" Zombie economics of the Reagan/Bush counter reformation proved the con it was.
The Rhetoric returns to its origins.
Now we are hearing the same rhetoric once again I used to hear when I was a kid from my older brothers and sisters. One of our candidates is being called a "war-monger" despite having worked in the State Department where her focus on was on diplomacy not war-making. Even more Ironic the people being called "war-mongers" by the young are folks who were anti-war as youths themselves. The Bernie Sanders campaign is tapping into a groundswell of blue collar and working people who suddenly have woken up to the fact that they were swindled by the cons, that the Reagan Revolution setup that swindle and that their leaders didn't fight it very hard. The fact that they were either asleep or voting against those leaders on "values voters" issues doesn't occur to them. And I'm not sure that all the "values voters" have woken up to the fact that they were swindled either. Though a lot of support from Donald Trump taps into that same sense of newly awakened grievances.
These "new" demands are things that most folks had forgotten were important. Now the folks who challenged the establishment in the 60's. Are being called the establishment now. It's ironic isn't it?
- Sources & Further Reading:
- Southern Strategy and the War on the Poor
I could write a lot more, but this is enough for this post.