[Posted by Karl]
It’s a vintage reference, but one that Michael Barone might find apt to describe Mitt Romney, who was three years behind Barone at a private boy’s school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan:
[A]s I look back on his biography, it seems to me that Romney missed one experience which changed the outlook and even the vocabulary of most of his schoolmates. This is a man who never experienced the ’60s. You know what I mean: peace demonstrations, dope smoking, ironic detachment, all that.
He spent a year in Stanford when, despite the calendar, the ’60s were just starting to arrive in Palo Alto; he debated the protesters. He then worked as a Mormon missionary in France (why doesn’t some debate questioner ask him to speak some French for us?) and witnessed with disapproval the May 1968 upheaval in Paris.
RTWT, but the excerpt ends there because it points out the weakness in Barone’s thesis. If Romney debated protesters at Stanford and witnessed the May 1968 riots in Paris, he probably had more experience with what Barone is calling the Sixties than most Americans.
Consider the following from two pieces published in the last election cycle. First, from fmr Gore adviser Morley Winograd and author Michael D. Hais:
It may surprise some to see baby boomers, so often represented as a generation of peaceniks and civil rights activists, producing this Republican realignment. But boomers were — and still are — a highly divided generation that actually tilts a bit to the right. On the college campuses of the 1960s, there were twice as many members of the right-wing Young Americans for Freedom as of the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society. It’s no different 40 years later. A survey done last month by the media research company Frank N. Magid Associates found that twice as many boomers call themselves conservative as liberal. The only thing that unites this generation are its members’ efforts to impose their diametrically opposed ideals, values and morality on everyone else through the political process.
Second, from lefty author Rick Perlstein:
The pictures people take and save, as opposed to the ones they never take or the ones they discard, say a lot about how they understand their own times. And in our archives as much as in our mind’s eye, we still record the ’60s in hazy cliches — in the stereotype of the idealistic youngster who came through the counterculture and protest movements, then settled down to comfortable bourgeois domesticity.
What’s missing? The other side in that civil war. The right-wing populist rage of 1968 third-party presidential candidate George Wallace, who, referring to an idealistic protester who had lain down in front of Johnson’s limousine, promised that if he were elected, “the first time they lie down in front of my limousine, it’ll be the last one they’ll ever lay down in front of because their day is over!” That kind of quip helped him rise to as much as 20 percent in the polls.
It’s easy to find hundreds of pictures of the national student strike that followed Nixon’s announcement of the invasion of Cambodia in the spring of 1970. Plenty of pictures of the riots at Kent State that ended with four students shot dead by National Guardsmen. None I could find, however, of the counter-demonstrations by Kent, Ohio, townies — and even Kent State parents. Flashing four fingers and chanting “The score is four/And next time more,” they argued that the kids had it coming.
Although Perlstein makes his point about pictures, one could easily make the same point about songs. Check Billboard’s Top 100 Songs for 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969 and 1970 to see how little revolution there is to be found there. In a 1969 Gallup poll, only 4% of American adults said they had tried marijuana. Even accounting for the stigma causing under-reporting, drug use was not widespread at the time.
The revisionist narrative of the Sixties Perstein describes is largely the result of the fact that the New Left captured one of America’s two major parties and most of its culture industry during the period. And the New Left has been so successful that even those who lived it — even someone as smart as Michael Barone — tends to lapse into the hazy cliches. If Romney was part of what Nixon called the Silent Majority, it means he was in the the majority. The counterculture was called the counterculture for a reason, even if they’ve partially succeeded in making it Establishment today.