The Gray Lady Waxes Nostalgic

Two pundits in one!

Byron York reads Frank Rich’s latest New York Times column, and finds the theater critic turned leftwing political pundit actually praising the boomers’ bete noir, the decade of the 1950s.


What a difference a few years and a change in political leadership can make.  Back in 1995, when Republicans took control of Congress, new Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich cited the 1950s as proof that years of liberal social policy had done great damage to America.  “Why do we have all these problems we didn’t have in 1955?” Gingrich asked.

Rich was livid.  “May we go back to 1955 for a moment?” he asked in an angry response to the new Speaker.  The 50s were “not all ‘Father Knows Best’ and sunny Normal Rockwell family tableaux.” In fact, Rich wrote, the 1950s were rife with out-of-wedlock births, drug use, and divorce.  The image of the happy middle-class, Mom-and-Dad-and-Buddy-and-Sis family — a family like, say, the Barstows — was a cruel deception.

“The truth about the 50’s is that all the post-World War II fissures in American life were present and simply papered over — with the aid of racial segregation, the denial of equal social and economic status to women, the repression of homosexuals and the refusal to recognize crimes like wife battering and child abuse,” Rich fumed.  “It was inevitable that this phony nirvana would crack at the seams, as it did in the 60s.”

When Gingrich and other Republicans advocated conservative positions on issues like school prayer, abortion, and sex education, Rich said, they were using “code phrases for turning back the clock to 1955 — when the rights of religious minorities went unprotected, when teen-age girls had back-alley abortions, when women were expected to be seen but not heard, when homosexuals stayed in the closet and when de facto segregation ruled in the nation’s schools.”

Rich could barely contain himself by column’s end. “Ah, the good old days!” he raged.  Newt Gingrich, he said, was “America’s most selective and powerful historian,” conjuring up images of a happy 1950s that never existed, simply to score political points.  So what does that make Frank Rich today?



No, just kidding — sort of. It’s a curious pattern at the New York Times: Half the paper looks blissfully at the 1930s: the economic collapse, the New Deal and heck, likely the Soviet purges as well. Krugman wants to refight World War II to jump-start the economy, Frank Rich has newfound faith in the decade that follows it. And of course, the paper’s publisher is forever nostalgic for the mud of Woodstock.

Why, it’s as if what passes for “liberalism” is a century-old ideology bankrupt of new ideas and is therefore wistfully looking back to imagined past glories to sustain itself.

Or to put it another way, “Can The L-word Be Saved?”


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