Return of the '60's

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And so, as the 1968 election draws nearer...

I know — some of you are thinking that I meant to write 2016 but fouled up my typing.

Nope.

Though the calendar year we live in is 2015, in spirit the moment closely resembles the 1960s. Maybe it is the ’60s. Maybe, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, we awaken each morning to find ourselves living in a long-gone decade, with Sonny and Cher providing musical accompaniment.

The notion took on more flesh over the weekend with the outbreak, in Phoenix, of a patented ’60s-style event — the shouting down of a presidential candidate by a mob of yahoos. I call the mobsters yahoos despite the pass they earn from many for “demonstrating while black.” The mobsters wanted tried and (I had supposed) bona fide lefty, ex-Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, to join them in vowing to dismantle “structural racism.” So they took over the stage of a way, way left-wing gathering where O’Malley was speaking.

“We’re going to hold this space,” a spokesmobster said, representing the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. “We are going to acknowledge the names of black women who have died in police custody.” And what was O’Malley, a Democratic presidential candidate, going to do about it? He was going to dither, that’s what. After some harmless preliminaries, he picked up the trademark slogan, “Black lives matter,” to which he added, “White lives matter. All lives matter.” The mob wasn’t buying it. Shouting and chanting ensued.

Care for a chant sample? “If I die in police custody, burn everything down! That’s the only way,” and here I adopt CNN’s transliteration, “motherf——— like you listen!”

Even good old ultra-lefty Bernie Sanders, who followed O’Malley, encountered what a reporter called “sporadic shouting.” He took it in stride. Not so O’Malley, who unburdened himself to the digital news site This Week in Blackness. Dragging in “white lives” and “all lives” had been a huge mistake.

“I meant no disrespect,” he said. “I did not understand the tremendous passion, commitment and feeling and depth of feeling that all of us should be attaching to this issue.”

No, of course not! But if this is the ’60s all over again, you have to expect disruptions of civic order. That’s the first thing. The second thing is: if you’re in O’Malley’s position, facing Authentic Protest, you apologize to the protesters. You apologize because you’re a wimp and a weakling and care less about free speech and civic processes than you do about being in sync with the times. We saw it all in the ’60s.

Bernie Sanders sure did. Being of that vintage himself, Bernie knew how far not to push the mobsters; how smilingly to hear out their “rage.” Everybody in the ’60s raged. Bernie, 26 years old in 1968, was no bad hand at it himself. To find the mobs gathering anew and carrying on as in the old days must bring nostalgic tears to his 73-year-old eyes.

These aren’t good times for un-Sanders, non-O’Malley types. But, oh, what great times for self-appointed warriors against an American order that is supposedly racist, homophobic, sexist, jingoistic — all that terrible stuff the ’60s worked to root out.

While American negotiators bend to the demands of Iranian mullahs, and demands go forth, uncontradicted, for junking the post-1865 reconciliation worked out by Yankees and ex-Confederates, free speech and free exercise of religion come under assault. Why? Because of the protections and immunities they supposedly afford un-Sanders, non-O’Malley — and non-mobster — types.

Everywhere today, it would seem, there is the stench of the 1960s, when reason and manners and tolerance took a backseat to anger and destructive impulses. The upcoming presidential campaign provides opportunity for improvement (if not recovery), but the O’Malley debacle and all the noxious Trumpery into which Republican aspirations have fallen in recent days do not, frankly, inspire confidence.

A bunch of nuts are on the loose in this historical moment — as they were in that nutty, emotionally ugly, fog-brained decade 40-odd years ago. I had hoped we’d left all that behind. Alas. 

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