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Ed Driscoll

Off the Rails: Mad Men and American Liberalism in 1968

April 22nd, 2013 - 12:01 am

The Wreck of the Penn Central

While liberal intellectuals were going off the rails, the business world wasn’t immune, either. In February of 1968, the Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central Railroad, long arch-rivals, would merge in a shotgun marriage caused as much by over-regulation and the inability to cut unprofitable routes as by anything else. The following year, Penn Central would incorporate the New Haven Railroad into their conglomeration. Then the whole thing would go spectacularly bankrupt in the summer of 1970, causing years of misery for east coast businesses and commuters.

The Penn Central bankruptcy would spur Congress into creating Amtrak in 1971, which effectively nationalized America’s passenger trains. Far from being the staunch laissez-faire capitalists of Ayn Rand’s vision, with only few exceptions America’s railroad executives were thrilled to offload their long-distance passenger business onto the federal government; it had been a loss-leader for the railroads ever since the American highway system and jet passenger planes became predominant by the end of the 1950s.

In 1976, Congress would merge the Penn Central and five other smaller but equally bankrupt northeast railroad lines into the Consolidated Rail Corporation or Conrail for short, another corporatist railroad venture. It was only at the insistence of the Reagan administration that Conrail was eventually privatized in the 1980s, one of the very few examples of a government-created venture finally concluding.

The Penn Central Railroad was notorious among railroad fans for eliminating the handsome aesthetics of the railroads it had assimilated.  The PRR and the NYC and the New Haven all had attractive paint schemes in their heyday; they were replaced by this grim modernist monstrosity.

It wouldn’t help that as the railroad went into bankruptcy, washing equipment went by the wayside; grimy black PC locomotives were staples of small communities throughout the northeast.

But the Pennsylvania Railroad had itself already begun to cast off pre-modernist aesthetics, when it leveled its original magnificent Penn Station in New York, in 1963, five years before the merger. (Which itself was a Mad Men subplot a few seasons back.) And corporations throughout America in the late 1960s were replacing their charming postwar style with a bland modernist conformity, inspired by the European Bauhaus aesthetics of the 1920s:

The Police Are Here To Preserve Disorder

On April 4th of 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated at 39, an astonishingly young age, given how much had accomplished in his lifetime. But by the time of his death, he too was drifting further to the radical left; in a 1967 speech he proclaimed, “the promises of the Great Society have been shot down on the battlefield of Vietnam,” when in reality, they were two sides of the same coin; LBJ was the ultimate “guns and butter” leader. The previous year, King was quoted as telling his staff:

You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism. There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.

The violent deaths of King and Bobby Kennedy were compounded by further violence at the infamous Democratic Convention in Chicago, in which the aging New Dealers were confronted by their radical successors. As author Daniel J. Flynn wrote in August of 2008 in City Journal:

Forty years ago this week, radical activists descended on Chicago to protest the Democratic National Convention. In the ensuing chaos, hospitals treated 192 policemen, more than 650 people were arrested, and one demonstrator was killed. This week, a group calling itself “Recreate 68” has converged on Denver to protest the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Its name to the contrary, Recreate 68’s organizers insist that they aren’t paying homage to the ’68 protestors. Not that they believe that the protestors did anything wrong: echoing the words of the federal government’s Walker Report, Recreate 68 contends that “what happened in Chicago in 1968 was not a violent protest, but rather a ‘police riot.’”

Numerous histories from participant-memoirists unsurprisingly second the “police riot” verdict. Cathy Wilkerson, whose cadre unleashed stink bombs and phoned bomb threats to local hotels, notes in her recent memoir that the “rampant brutality” of Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley “was exposed for all the world to see.” For Tom Hayden, the coordinator of the Chicago protests who was arrested for deflating a police car’s tire, “rioting police” exhibited “brutal behavior” and “mindless sadism.” Bill Ayers, who brags of pelting Chicago cops with marbles fired from a slingshot, decries the “violent police assaults” and police “rioting.” But far from political innocents clubbed into reality by sadistic policemen, the activists who squared off with cops were generally movement veterans who went to Chicago looking for a fight. As Jeff Jones and Mike Spiegel of New Left Notes wrote six months before the convention, “to envision non-violent demonstrations at the Convention is to indulge in pleasant fantasying.” By 1968, the movement had moved from mere protest to open confrontation. Leaving for Chicago, Terry Robbins—who, 18 months later, would blow himself up while constructing a bomb intended for a soldiers’ dance—told comrades: “Let’s go kick some ass.”

Mayor Daley became so flustered at the violence that had descended upon his city, he uttered his now legendary malapropism, “The confrontation was not caused by the police. The confrontation was caused by those who charged the police. Gentlemen, let’s get this thing straight, once and for all. The policeman is not here to create disorder. The policeman is here to preserve disorder.”

But then, Chicago-style disorder would seep through much of America, as the New Left increasingly began to control the levers of power. (See also: President Barack Obama, and his former and current secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton and John F. Kerry.)

Or as Ben Wattenberg memorably quipped four years later, when he was a delegate to the 1972 Democratic presidential convention, “There won’t be any riots in Miami because the people who rioted in Chicago are on the Platform Committee.”

Comments are closed.

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.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks 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.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks 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!
51 weeks ago
51 weeks 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.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks 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.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks 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?
51 weeks ago
51 weeks 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.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks 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 ...
51 weeks ago
51 weeks 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?
51 weeks ago
51 weeks 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.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks 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!
51 weeks ago
51 weeks 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!
51 weeks ago
51 weeks 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. )
51 weeks ago
51 weeks 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.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks 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.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
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