Radical Chic Comes Full Circle

I don’t think Tom Wolfe had any idea how seminal Radical Chic would become when he first wrote the story, but as I’ve mentioned before, you could make a case for it being one of the epochal articles (and later books) of the late 20th century, one whose story resonates to this day.  It caught elite liberals at the apex, as they were departing the relatively benign New Deal/Great Society days for more punitive and frequently violent uncharted territory.


Where they’ve had difficulty getting back from, ever since. First up, Jonah Goldberg spots the New York Times with a case of Bomb Nostalgia that would have made Lenny and Felicia’s house-guests proud. Jonah writes:

The Times has a telling piece on the anniversary of the left-wing domestic terror campaign in New York City 40 years ago this year. I thought this quote was particularly revealing:

Prof. Jeremy Varon, a historian at the New School and the author of “Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies” (University of California Press, 2004), said that “1969 was the high watermark of anger and frustration in the Vietnam war.”

He added: “The bombings that year were an expression, an act of, if not foolhardy, optimism. They were desperadoes. They had the belief that they could bomb old ideologies out of existence.”

Ah, of course, the old “their hearts were in the right place riff.” And, later:

“Forty years later, however, there’s little if any public tolerance for the rationalization that radicals once employed in trying to justify their means to an end,” the Police Department’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, said in an e-mail message in response to questions about the bombings.

Professor Varon said that the movements out of which groups like Mr. Melville’s emerged will always have a degree of romantic resonance with young activists.

“It’s the nature of young people,” he said. “They will always be inspired by people of intense principles. The bombers represent the extreme edge of the commitment. They will for a long time be regarded for their generational mobilization. It’s impressive to most people.”

Um, no, no it’s really not “impressive to most people.” And the “romantic resonance” is overwhelmingly with young left-wing and liberal activists, despite the fact I keep hearing how mainstream liberals and Democrats don’t have any affinity whatsoever with the Weather Underground and similar groups. When conservatives say (as I did in my book) that liberals, broadly speaking, have a romantic attachment to this stuff it’s an outrageous slander. But when the New York Times essentially reports it as fact, it’s interesting social commentary.

Oh and on that point, bonus prize for anyone who can guess whose name does not appear in the article. I’ll give you a hint, he worked with the man who’s currently the president of the United States.


Eight years ago, the Times was busy praising that now unnamed figure for his youthful enthusiasms, shall we say, on a remarkably ill-timed publication date.

Which brings us to exhibit number two. One of Tim Blair’s readers asks:

“Is now the time to remind everyone,” emails KP, “that Obama’s babysitters Ayers and Dohrm dedicated their communist manifesto to Robert Kennedy’s assassin, amongst others?”

Heaven forfend! If it’s not acceptable to mention this person in polite company, then that little tidbit needs to really stay completely submerged. (So to speak.)

Curiously, RFK himself would foreshadow the horrors to come in 1968 through the early 1970s, when he spoke at Kansas State University on March 18th, 1968 and said:

As Kennedy began [to speak at Kansas State U.], his voice cracked, and those near the stage noticed his hands trembling and his right leg shaking.

After praising [Al] Landon’s distinguished career, he said, “I am also glad to come to the home state of another great Kansan, who wrote, ‘If our colleges and universities do not breed men who riot, who rebel, who attack life with all their youthful vision and vigor then there is something wrong with our colleges. The more riots that come on college campuses, the better the world for tomorrow.’ ” …

At first he seemed tentative and wooden, stammering and repeating himself, too nervous to punctuate his sentences with gestures. But with each round of applause he became more animated. Soon he was pounding the lectern with his right fist, and shouting out his words.

Rene Carpenter watched the students in the front rows. Their faces shone, and they opened their mouths in unison, shouting, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”

Hays Gorey, of Time, called the electricity between Kennedy and the K.S.U. students “real and rare” and said that ” .. John Kennedy … himself couldn’t be so passionate, and couldn’t set off such sparks.”

Kevin Rochat was close to weeping because Kennedy was so direct and honest. He kept telling himself, My God! He’s saying exactly what I’ve been thinking! ..

Kennedy concluded by saying, “Our country is in danger: not just from foreign enemies; but above all, from our own misguided policies–and what they can do to the nation that Thomas Jefferson once said was the last, great hope of mankind. There is a contest on, not for the rule of America but for the heart of America. In these next eight months we are going to decide what this country will stand for–and what kind of men we are.”

He raised his fist in the air so it resembled the revolutionary symbol on posters hanging in student rooms that year, promised “a new America,” and the hall erupted in cheers and thunderous applause.

As he started to leave, waves of students rushed the platform, knocking over chairs and raising more dust. They grabbed at him, stroking his hair and ripping his shirtsleeves. Herb Schmertz was left with a lifelong phobia of crowds. University officials opened a path to a rear exit, but Kennedy waved them off and waded into the crowd …


Of course, colleges have been breeding men who riot and rebel and even blow things up from time to time since the late 1960s. Some of them have gone on to quite remarkable careers…

Update: More on Ayers elsewhere at Pajamas, from Mary Grabar.


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