Ed Driscoll

Can America Rise Above The Divisions Of The 1960s?

William Kristol reminds Tom Brokaw of the virtues of the Greatest Generation:

Q: If the World War II generation was the “greatest generation,” what is the Vietnam War generation?
A: I don’t think the full judgment of history is in yet. There is certainly greatness in the ’60s generation. They changed our attitudes about race in America, which was long overdue.
–Tom Brokaw, interviewed in the November 19 U. S. News & World Report, on his new book, Boom! Voices of the Sixties.

Whoa! The ’60s generation changed our attitudes about race in America? Rosa Parks, Bayard Rustin, and Martin Luther King Jr.–were they from the Vietnam war generation? Earl Warren, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and Hubert Humphrey? For that matter, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman, murdered on June 21, 1964, in Mississippi? None of these was a member of the “ ’60s generation.” None was a boomer.

There really was greatness in the “greatest generation.” It fought and won World War II, then came home to achieve widespread prosperity and overcome segregation while seeing the Cold War through to a successful conclusion. But the greatest generation had one flaw, its greatest flaw, you might say: It begat the baby boomers.

The most prominent of the boomers spent their youth scorning those of their compatriots who fought communism, while moralizing and posturing at no cost to themselves. They went on to enjoy the benefits of their parents’ labors, sacrificed little, and produced nothing particularly notable. But the boomers were unparalleled when it came to self-glorification, a talent they began developing as teenagers and have continued to improve
up to this day. They were also good at bamboozling their parents, and members of the “silent generation” like Tom Brokaw, to be overly deferential to them–even to the point of giving them credit for things they didn’t do.

Meanwhile, Daniel Henninger wonders “Can America rise above the divisions of the 1960s?” and concludes, not yet:

What fell out of 1968 was a profound division over what I would call civic vision.

One side, which took to the streets in Chicago or occupied Columbia University, concluded from Vietnam and the race riots that America, in its relations with the world and its own citizens, was flawed and required big changes. Their defining document was the March 1968 Kerner Commission report, announcing “two societies,” separate and unequal. The press, incidentally, emerged from Vietnam and the riots joined to this new, permanent template. That, too, has never stopped.

The other side was, well, insulted. It thought America was fundamentally good, though always able to improve. The Voting Rights Act passed in 1964 on a bipartisan vote, opposed mainly by southern Democrats. This side’s standard-bearer called the U.S. “a shining city upon a hill.” But after 1968, no Democratic presidential candidate would ever speak those words. Nor will Mr. Obama ever repeat Mr. Sarkozy’s explicit repudiation of that era.

If it’s Hillary versus Rudy, McCain or even the placid Mitt Romney, we will be in those streets again. Besides, her candidacy comes with Jumpin’ Jack Flash himself, Bill Clinton. Would it be a good thing if the country’s politics said bye-bye baby to the children of 1968? Probably. But it won’t happen this time.

And finally, for more debate about the decade (along with the 1970s) that never, ever, ever ends, in one of their ongoing video chats, Peter Beinart asks Jonah Goldberg, “What’s Your Problem With Frank Rich’s take on the Sixties?”