Ed Driscoll

Viewing The 1960s From 1970

Ann Althouse looks back to Time magazine’s January 5th, 1970 issue, which declared “The Middle Americans” as Time’s Men and Women of the Year:

Their car windows were plastered with American-flag decals, their ideological totems. In the bumper-sticker dialogue of the freeways, they answered Make Love Not War with Honor America or Spiro is My Hero. They sent Richard Nixon to the White House and two teams of astronauts to the moon. They were both exalted and afraid. The mysteries of space were nothing, after all, compared with the menacing confusions of their own society.The American dream that they were living was no longer the dream as advertised. They feared that they were beginning to lose their grip on the country. Others seemed to be taking over — the liberals, the radicals, the defiant young, a communications industry that they often believed was lying to them. The Saturday Evening Post folded, but the older world of Norman Rockwell icons was long gone anyway. No one celebrated them: intellectuals dismissed their lore as banality. Pornography, dissent and drugs seemed to wash over them in waves, bearing some of their children away.

But in 1969 they began to assert themselves. They were ‘discovered’ first by politicians and the press, and then they started to discover themselves. In the Administration’s voices — especially in the Vice President’s and the Attorney General’s — in the achievements and the character of the astronauts, in a murmurous and pervasive discontent, they sought to reclaim their culture. It was their interpretation of patriotism that brought Richard Nixon the time to pursue a gradual withdrawal from the war. By their silent but newly felt presence, they influenced the mood of government and the course of legislation, and this began to shape the course of the nation and the nation’s course in the world. The Men and Women of the Year were the Middle Americans.

Ann writes, “Read the whole, awesome essay — and marvel that we’ve been talking about these things for the last 40 years”:

Barack Obama’s recent comment about the bitterness of left-behind small-towners may seem like the latest line of dialogue in a long, long conversation.

I’m not sure what’s to marvel about–Obama’s rhetoric in his less guarded moments is merely another byproduct of one of the more curious aspects of what Time, almost four decades ago, called “the liberals, the radicals, the defiant young” (who are not so defiant now, merely trapped in a leftover haze of conformity): their absolute inability to advance their mindset beyond the first days of Starting From Zero.