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Ed Driscoll

Off the Rails: Mad Men and American Liberalism in 1968

April 22nd, 2013 - 12:01 am

Lyndon Johnson apparently never heard Walter Cronkite of CBS tell his millions of viewers in February of 1968 that he thought Vietnam unwinnable. Johnson’s reelection bid was instead torpedoed by an even more unlikely source: fellow Democrat Eugene McCarthy, in a moment that would have long echoing repercussions for American liberalism. As Mark Steyn wrote in his obituary for McCarthy in the March 2006 Atlantic, “If you strike at the king, you have to kill him. And, amazingly, Eugene McCarthy did:”

On March 12, 1968, the not exactly barnstorming senator got 42.4 percent of Democratic votes in the New Hampshire primary and denied the sitting president even a majority of his own party’s supporters: Lyndon Johnson secured just 49.5 percent. Within three weeks, he was gone: the president announced he would not seek re-election and effectively ended his political career. The king was dead, long live … well, not Senator McCarthy: the man who plunged the dagger in did not take the crown. But his few short weeks of stumping the Granite State changed his party, with consequences it lives with to this day. The LBJ diehards who dismissed him as a mere “footnote in history” failed to understand how much damage one footnote can do when he doesn’t mind whose toes he steps on and all the bigfeet turn out to have feet of clay. Thus, the paradox of Gene McCarthy: the revered liberal icon who destroyed the last successful liberal presidency. His act of insouciant regicide was the defining moment in the Democrats’ modern history.

Foreshadowing the presidential bid of George McGovern four years later, the otherwise milquetoast appearing McCarthy built up an odd assortment of ‘60s radicals supporting his pyrrhic campaign: Emmett Tyrrell of the American Spectator coined the phrase “coat and tie radicals” to describe those who professed to “get clean for Gene.”

They were “leftists of various degrees, though years ago they lost sight of Marx or for that matter of any other systematic thinker on the left. In their twenties they went into politics, social work, the media, and the corporate world. They donned bourgeois attire when appropriate, or when advantageous they affected leftist fashions. That is why, since college days, we on the right have called them Coat and Tie Radicals,” Tyrrell wrote in early 2007, just as Hillary Clinton – herself a supporter of Eugene McCarthy – was about tee off against an even more radical and much more dynamic opponent, Barack Obama.

Of course, while campus radicals were donning coat and ties in 1968 to tone down their appearance, many American elites were discarding these venerable symbols of traditional style. In the current season of Mad Men, while Don Draper still, at least in the office, thankfully clings to his fedora and Brooks Brothers suit and tie, anyone who’s followed the show from its debut has seen the dramatic transformation of its interpretations of the era’s fashions and hair styles, which has accelerated in the new season. It is 1968, after all. (Note Sammy’s roach clip at the 1:50 mark, by the way):

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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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