If you can remember anything about the Sixties, you weren't really there.
~ PAUL KANTNERI sometimes wish that Kantner were right. I am eternally grateful to have come of age during that tumultuous decade, a time of extraordinary political, social and cultural upheaval. But as someone who was there, let alone edited a massive newspaper supplement on the 25th anniversary of 1968 a few years back, I am pretty sure that there is nothing new, let alone profound, to be plumbed from the depths of that era.
There isn't, but there are always current events to pivot off of in search of a new angle.
That's where the New York Times went last week in belaboring the obvious -- that in many respects we're still stuck in the Sixties, two recent examples being Richard Blumenthal, a Senate candidate from Connecticut, mischaracterizing his Vietnam-era military service, and Rand Paul, a Senate candidate from Kentucky, expressing philosophical reservations about the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
I happen to think that while wannabe war heroes have been lying about what they did since time in memoriam, the Blumenthal saga is relevant. This because the Vietnam War was the defining event of the Sixties -- bra burning and free love just don't seem quite as weighty -- while many of the people defining patriotism for the rest of us in recent years are chickenhawks. Think Bush, Quayle, Gramm, Limbaugh, Buchanan and some guy by the name of Cheney.
The Paul saga, however, is irrelevant to the Sixties equation. This is because, as blogger buddy Will Bunch notes, the libertarian's stab at political suicide stems less from that era (when he was a wee tyke) than from a set of fringe political views that owe allegiance to no decade, only being timelessly daffy. Incidentally, neither Rand nor his father Ron did military service, while Ron made his political nut by criticizing the Vietnam War not for being wrong but being so awfully expensive.
Where I do believe the Sixties has pungence today is that it was a huge turn-off for the political and social conservatives who have hijacked the Republican Party.
Will writes in The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, Hi-Def Hucksters and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama, his forthcoming book, that the grassroots of many a Tea Partier's activism was that era of self indulgence and excess. (I kinda agree. See my recycled post below on "The Summer of Love Reconsidered".)
A disproportionate number of these activists seem to be Vietnam veterans, according to Will, and they have lost little of the anger they felt over how they were treated then and how they still are not accorded their due now.
The Baby Boomers were going to make waves no matter what. It's just that we grew up during a profoundly divisive war and a time when racial and social injustices could no longer be ignored. The sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll were just icing on the generational cake.
So when will the Sixties mania end? When the last survivor of that era -- like the last Confederate widow or the last Great War veteran -- passes on. And while I'd like to take a few more trips around the Sun, that will not be a moment too soon.