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Ed Driscoll

Off the Rails: Mad Men and American Liberalism in 1968

April 22nd, 2013 - 12:01 am

While the two-hour sixth season debut of Mad Men earlier this month played oddly coy about which year the series was set in, we now know that we’re witnessing Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce versus 1968.

Or perhaps it’s the other way around, given how the year of 1968 came close to tearing the country apart. In many ways, the events of that year shaped our current world in ways that are still playing themselves out, so it’s worth exploring just how badly the nation imploded. Apologies for the length of this post, but it’s merely a partial list of 1968′s horror stories.

Vietnam and the Cognitive Dissonance of the Liberal Elite

In the 1950s and 1960s, German émigrés such as Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius, the former leaders of the socialist Bauhaus school of design of the 1920s Weimar Republic ,were busy building skyscrapers to house America’s corporate elites. To this day, Mies’ Seagram Building and Gropius’ Pan Am Building are lasting tributes to Weimar aesthetics on Park Ave. So perhaps it’s no wonder that American liberal elites were themselves embracing a Weimar-esque sense of dissipation and fatalism. JFK’s optimistic New Frontier worldview was supplanted by a collective malaise by depressed American elites by the late 1960s.

The cognitive dissonance of liberals not being able to process that JFK was the world’s most prominent victim of the Cold War was one cause of this malaise. Another was the ambition of LBJ’s Great Society, which had attempted to build on Kennedy’s space program and his nascent efforts at fighting communism in Vietnam with a series of Texas-sized domestic programs. LBJ’s goal was to recreate FDR’s New Deal, and as Rand Simberg has written, Johnson embraced NASA’s moon missions as an extension of FDR’s TVA program. But LBJ’s Texas drawl could never replace JFK’s polished Brahmin accent and style in the eyes of American liberal elites, who would come to turn on Johnson, devouring him for his outsized sense of ambition, and his patriotism.

As Patrick Moynihan had said in the early 1970s, “Most liberals had ended the 1960s rather ashamed of the beliefs they had held at the beginning of the decade.” But it’s worth flashing back to the end of the 1950s just to see how dramatic the transformation was. As I mentioned when I interviewed David Gelernter last year, chapter one of his 2012 book America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered In the Obamacrats) opens with a remarkable quote from William DeVane, the dean of Yale, in 1957:

Our national leaders for the most part are men of integrity, idealism, and skill; our literary and artistic people command an international respect such as they never had before; our scientists and engineers, especially the latter, are the wonder and envy of other nations; our teachers in our colleges and universities are learned and devoted.

By 1968, liberal elites in academia and the media were simply incapable of allowing such a sentence to pass from their lips, and their worldview would become ever more punitive in the years since: Former JFK/LBJ official turned public TV staple Bill Moyers recently denounced the Pledge of Allegiance on PBS:

Veteran journalist Bill Moyers told his viewers on March 29 that the next time they say the Pledge of Allegiance, they should “remember: it’s a lie. A whopper of a lie.” Bill Moyers’s “Moyers & Company,” which included the snippet, airs on taxpayer funded PBS.

“We coax it from the mouths of babes for the same reason our politicians wear those flag pins in their lapels – it makes the hypocrisy go down easier, the way aspirin helps a headache go away.”

It’s a cliché to write that the well was poisoned by Vietnam; as Gelernter wrote in America-Lite, the sixties peace movement preceded the escalation of our involvement there.  Early in America-Lite, Gelernter contrasts that 1957 quote from Yale’s William DeVane with mid-1970s quotes from liberal essayist E.B. White. “No one knows which way to turn and which way to go,” White believed in 1975. The following year, he would add, “Patriotism is unfashionable, having picked up the taint of chauvinism, jingoism, and demagoguery. A man is not expected to love his country, lest he make an ass of himself.” Almost 40 years later, Bill Moyers would take that sentiment to its punitive conclusion. In America-Lite, Gelernter notes:

The conventional view is that the civil rights movement and Vietnam and feminism are what changed the country. But the antiwar movement and modern feminism were consequences of the revolution. The civil rights movement sustained and expanded the revolution. For the thing itself, we have to look elsewhere.

* * * * *

Today, when Americans praise their own nation, they do it defiantly; that unselfconscious patriotic pleasure is gone. What caused the American mood to crumble between William DeVane’s statement and E. B. White’s? The civil rights struggle couldn’t be the answer; for one thing, it united rather than divided the country, except for the segregationist Old South. Maybe the bitter split over the war in Vietnam explains it. But that can’t be right; can’t be the whole truth. Antiwar protests were powered by the New Left and “the Movement,” which originated in Tom Hayden’s “Port Huron Statement” of 1962, before the nation had ever heard of Vietnam. And the New Left picked up speed at Berkeley in the Free Speech Movement of 1964 and early ’65, before the explosion of Vietnam. Bitterness toward America was an evil spirit shopping for a body when Vietnam started to throb during 1965.

1965 is when the sea change occurred in the writing of David Halberstam of the New York Times on the subject of Vietnam, which would set the tone for much of the rest of the MSM. As Roger Kimball wrote in the New Criterion after Halberstam died in 2007, Halberstam spent the first half of the 1960s, particularly while JFK was still alive, championing the importance of Vietnam as, in the words of Halberstam, “a strategic country in a key area, it is perhaps one of only five or six nations in the world that is truly vital to U.S. interests.” By 1968, he and much of the rest of the American news media would turn against the war.

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Top Rated Comments   
This is a wonderful examination of those years and you touch on so much that was the germination point for the fields of fetid cultural debris we have to make our way through on a daily basis now.

I was a teen-ager during the JFK presidency and vividly remember those years. The media created the same giddy expectations for the Kennedy administration that they did for Obama, and they focused only on the superficial as they did in '08. With John and Jackie the media whetted the national appetite for a kind of insidious façade of glamour and sophistication that everyone felt they needed in order to be fulfilled. This reverberated throughout the culture and was the beginning of the know-nothing intellectualism and the ravenous consumerism we live with today. The brain dead intellectuals are now everywhere, running everything and consumerism has created nothing but greed, envy and great unhappiness.

The Camelot myth was not a fairytale, it was a nightmare and - as young as I was - I was mildly shocked that everyone around me totally believed it. The beginning of the dumbing down of America, I guess - a task that was completed with the introduction of massive amounts of drugs into all levels of society in the mid-'60s.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The intellectuals poisoned the well in the 1950's. Norman Mailer's "White Negro," not Port Huron, is where I trace the rot.

Mailer celebrated rape, rioting and race hatred by minorities towards anyone of accomplishment in any race. The whole thing unfolded just as he wished. Generations of hip young leftists treated that essay like a roadmap and Soul on Ice as a validation of their deepest wishes. Rabbit Redux captures the essence of this better than any other book, but you have to start with Rabbit Run to undrstand how much we lost.

35 years later, illiterate minority children raised by illiterate mothers are taught by white leftist teachers to celebrate the fact that Bill Ayers tried to bash in cops' heads, and they aren't taught anything else.

It is just as Mailer wished it would be.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (33)
All Comments   (33)
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Actually I feel you have to go back to the late 20's as the Communist infultration of the Federal Government got going. You need no other author to describe the future other than William Z. Foster and his unknown tome "Toward a Soviet America." He says what they will do under a National Dept. of Education, they have done it and nobody really knows. For the unknowing, Foster was alternatlly #1 & #2 in the CPUSA and is buried in the Kremlin, great American, Not!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It's bad form to remind people still alive, and "fundamentally" instrumental in the management, of the past if less than laudatory.

That's tantamount to placing blame. HOPING? for at the least a mea culpa from the miscreants. Instead with the fashion in non-judgement, personal feelings of "guilt "in the miscreants sufficient unto the day.

That same non-judgement of course does not apply to inhumane passive smoke killers, , patriots, members of "that vast right wing conspiracy" or critics and opponents to means, methods and aims of the present "holders" of the civic torch.

1968 So Yesterday. That's history. Only wrinklies could possibly care about anything that long ago. Unless of course "crimes against humanity" by people as offender and recipient who have been dead for over a century.Those we insist their progeny must pay for their crimes, as unto the fourth generation?

After all the catchword is "history begins with us". And we have the scions of the Mad Men and their managers in Media, Entertainment, Education and government ofthose days of yore in 1968 and following to whom we are grateful every day. Grateful, otherwise exiled from "good society" for their having showed us the right path.

No NOT the Right Path. "The Left Path". That ancient traditional path to righteousness and guilt free life.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Great post - the links very informative. I was a toddler in 1962 so the background was great to put things into perspective.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1968
Ya, I'm agonna have nightmares for awhile. It was an interesting post, and from the comments it reads like the blind men describing an elephant; it depends on what part of the creature you touched.

Aw hell, what difference does it make?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
For future reference, Mr. Driscoll, it's either Daniel Patrick Moynihan or, if you want to be familiar, Pat Moynihan. No one ever referred to him as Patrick Moynihan.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Let me, as concisely as possible, say this about that.

First, I think you push the timeline somewhat, the real turning point certainly did not preceed the end of the Nixon administration and the moral and political depression after the war in Vietnam ended as it did.

Second, you omit an important point that liberalism, socialism, and even communism held some degrees of academic credibility until the USSR imploded and the Berlin wall fell. This colored the debates in the 1960s in ways hard to recall today.

... suppressing urge to add another two or twenty points ...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It has been said that if you claim that you remember 1968 clearly, then you probably were not part of the action. But who knew that 2001 was Fascist? What the hell does that mean, that it had some tribute to deep forces beyond our own individual ability to control? If it were about "pure" evolution, rather than monolith controlled stuff, would it be less or more Fascist? How does the use of that word here, advance anything?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This is a wonderful examination of those years and you touch on so much that was the germination point for the fields of fetid cultural debris we have to make our way through on a daily basis now.

I was a teen-ager during the JFK presidency and vividly remember those years. The media created the same giddy expectations for the Kennedy administration that they did for Obama, and they focused only on the superficial as they did in '08. With John and Jackie the media whetted the national appetite for a kind of insidious façade of glamour and sophistication that everyone felt they needed in order to be fulfilled. This reverberated throughout the culture and was the beginning of the know-nothing intellectualism and the ravenous consumerism we live with today. The brain dead intellectuals are now everywhere, running everything and consumerism has created nothing but greed, envy and great unhappiness.

The Camelot myth was not a fairytale, it was a nightmare and - as young as I was - I was mildly shocked that everyone around me totally believed it. The beginning of the dumbing down of America, I guess - a task that was completed with the introduction of massive amounts of drugs into all levels of society in the mid-'60s.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Funny about Sammy Davis and his Nehru jacket. Today, visit a bookstore in Silicon Valley on a Saturday night and you'll see plenty of young, single Indian males, presumably on H1B visas, and not a one of them is wearing a Nehru jacket.

I guess that's progress!

As to the 1972 GOP convention in Miami, one under-reported dirty trick kept it from being a repeat of the 1968 Democrat convention - Quaaludes.

As a young hippie dude in Florida at the time, I can say that the state was awash in illegal Quaaludes - what would be called a date rape drug today except then, hippie chicks lined up for an evening with them - no force or deception required.

If there is one thing a young radical loved more that smashing faces in the street and "getting his fair share of abuse" in return, it was hippie chicks drugged out on aphrodisiac downers.

I've always admired Nixon's team for that approach to potential civil disorder. Pure genius!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Gee, I've never heard that before. How did they hand out the 'ludes? Did they wander the crowds bearing them on silver trays? Maybe they just carried little baskets of them to distribute to the hippies, who always did appreciate "natural" stuff like baskets. Oh, I know! They tossed them from a helicopter!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Similar to the method here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdfPrkw_V3M (about 0:35).

(They added the goat leggings for the '76 convention. )
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
...and let's not forget the Tet Offensive and the siege of Khe Sahn. Before that Vietnam was "winnable," after that the antiwar movement really became mainstream. 1968 was a terrible year.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And you know what's doubly-crazy about that? Both Tet and Khe San became the biggest American victories of that war. Militarily, each of those debacles dealt the Communists serious defeats. But because they were hard fought and highly visible, the media focused on the negatives.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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