Ed Driscoll

Mile Markers on the Road to Nixonland

Kyle Smith on “The Ecstasy of Michael Moore:”

Go Democrats! Go with your heart. You know you want to forget you ever liked Bill Clinton and return to being the fellowship of filthy campgrounds, tie-dye and bad acid. Why not tune in, turn on and drop out? Surely being the Party of Protest is groovier than actually trying to manage the economy. Oh, and media outlets: Please give ample coverage to the occupiers. Don’t start to lose interest if things go all Seattle-y and WTO-ish.

And what does this visionary Michael Moore see happening next?

We don’t know what the next step is. The next step is we’re gonna see what happens. It’s kind of like, you know, if you were the person who made “Bonnie and Clyde” or “Easy Rider,” or if you were Dylan and you put out your first album. It’s so shocking to people. Go back and read the New York Times review of “Dr. Strangelove.” They did not know what the hell it was.

Interesting examples. As Moore’s fellow lefty Rick Perlstein told Reason while he was promoting Nixonland, his look back at the era that led to the 37th president: “My theory is that Bonnie and Clyde was the most important text of the New Left:”

Reason: You like to mix cultural history with political history. Bonnie and Clyde is one of the central texts in the book.

Perlstein: My theory is that Bonnie and Clyde was the most important text of the New Left, much more important than anything written by Paul Goodman or C. Wright Mills or Regis Debray. It made an argument about vitality and virtue vs. staidness and morality that was completely new, that resonated with young people in a way that made no sense to old people. Just the idea that the outlaws were the good guys and the bourgeois householders were the bad guys—you cannot underestimate [sic] how strange and fresh that was.

Americans took a Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet-sized hit off of radical chic in 1968, and didn’t much like the mellow-harshening buzz. Similarly, Easy Rider nearly finished off the movie industry until George Lucas and Steven Spielberg started making apolitical family-friendly movies in the second half of the 1970s. And as for Dr. Strangelove, between Henry Kissinger and Ronald Reagan, it must have seemed to the left during the ’70s and ’80s like they were living out Kubrick and Terry Southern’s apocalyptic vision.

While Michael Moore is orgasmic right now, Michael Medved has a sobering reminder of how the protests (and worse) in 1968 played out:

The ’68 model also offers a potential solution to one of the many mysteries swirling around the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations: placing the angry, inchoate gatherings in a meaningful historical context and answering key questions about their long-term political impact.

For those of us old enough to remember the last tragic years of Lyndon Johnson’s administration, the country’s mood offers eerie similarities. Then, as now, overwhelming majorities of Americans agreed that things had gone terribly, incomprehensibly wrong for the most powerful nation on earth, and they demonstrated their displeasure with marches, sit-ins, student strikes, and (in the case of the ’60s) destructive and violent inner-city riots. Confident Republicans naturally blamed the increasingly unpopular Johnson for the sour state of affairs, while his erstwhile Democratic allies quickly forgot about his once-heralded legislative triumphs in their worries over a seemingly endless war and frightening domestic unrest. In Johnson’s case, his historic success in passing long-stalled items on the Democratic agenda (Medicare, major civil-rights bills) looked increasingly irrelevant in the midst of ongoing national agony, just as Obama’s achievements in passing health-care reform and financial regulation have done nothing to alleviate fears of national decline and looming disaster.

Amid the gloom in 1967, a small cadre of Democratic upstarts with limited experience in national politics resolved to offer a primary challenge to LBJ’s formidable reelection campaign. The “Dump Johnson” movement had scant hope of electoral success but meant to raise high-profile demands for dramatic change while offering a constructive outlet for spreading public disgust. Itinerant activist and sometime college administrator Allard K. Lowenstein (my personal friend and mentor at the time) began searching for a plausible candidate to challenge the incumbent president. Robert Kennedy, the senator from New York and former attorney general, represented the obvious first choice, but RFK unequivocally refused to make the race. Lowenstein and his allies then solicited a range of other possibilities, including Sens. George McGovern and Frank Church, California Rep. Don Edwards, and Gen. James Gavin, but they all declined. Finally, in late October 1967, an obscure junior senator from Minnesota, Eugene McCarthy, agreed to launch a quixotic nomination fight against the powerful president of his own party and promised to focus that campaign on spirited (but largely unfocused) disagreement with Johnson’s handling of the Vietnam War.

Today on MSNBC, adman turned former CNBC show host Donny Deutsch had a brilliant high-concept pitch for the gang at the Manhattan Obamaville. What they really need…is another Kent State!

Actually though, having President Obama sic the National Guard on the protestors would do wonders for his sagging poll numbers. Richard Nixon’s certainly didn’t suffer at the time: as USA Today reported last year in the midst of an otherwise hagiographic flashback to Kent State, “A Gallup Poll found that only 11% of Americans faulted the Guard; 58% thought the demonstrators were partly responsible for the carnage.” (Well, yeah.)

And as Michael Gerson writes in the Washington Post:

Feeling provoked himself, Obama has now abandoned the pretense of post-partisanship. He runs for reelection on the platform of funding unreformed entitlements with higher taxes on the wealthy. It is hard to imagine a more typical, tired, polarizing Democratic message. It is a surrender to predictable national division.

There are some who stress the positives of polarization — that it encourages conviction, participation and clear political choices. The defense of partisanship is oddly bipartisan. It can be heard among activists at Tea Party rallies and in New York’s Zuccotti Park.

But polarization complicates the task of governing. A highly partisan majority — as Obama proved during his first two years — can get things done. It just can’t get the most important things done. For America to remain a competitive economic power, the president and legislature need to undertake a series of complex, controversial reforms of the tax code and entitlement system. This will be hard enough without the cultivation of ideological rigidity and mutual disdain.

What happens to a politician when he runs for office while being compared to George McGovern, somehow gets the gig, and emerges — in more ways than one — four years later, or arguably sooner, as the second coming of Richard Nixon?

We’ll find out next year.