The Peace and Love Sixties changed America forever – people woke up – it was a revolution. Sure, and you’ll be thin and young again, and win the lottery. Pop music changed, as did any number of social norms, particularly regarding women, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 rid us of legally sanctioned institutionalized racism – but the Supreme Court just gutted the Voting Rights Act and the Republican Party is in its third or fourth year of efforts, at the state level, to make it next to impossible for blacks and the poor and the elderly to ever vote again – new special ID requirements and severely restricting voting hours and all the rest will do that. It’s like the sixties never happened. And the hippies never ended the Vietnam War either. For all the turmoil at the 1968 Democratic National Convention – riots in the street and all the rest – the nominee turned out to be the quite conventional Hubert Humphrey. Would he end the war? He said he would, but he couldn’t say how. The antiwar crowd was not happy.
They had no reason to be happy. Eugene McCarthy – Clean Gene – the poet-philosopher of the calmer half of the antiwar left – had withdrawn. Bobby Kennedy, newly reborn as a champion of social justice, speaking out for the oppressed, and obviously opposed to what we were doing in Vietnam, had been assassinated out here in Los Angeles, not long after meeting with Caesar Chavez. Bobby Kennedy never made it to the Chicago convention, and Martin Luther King had been assassinated a few months earlier. What was changing? At the end of the decade Richard Nixon was elected, and the Vietnam War raged on. Early in his second term Nixon resigned in disgrace, and the war went on. Gerald Ford finally pulled the plug in 1973 – we were outta there – and the antiwar hippies had nothing to do with it. Most of them were bankers or dentists or housewives by then.
It was the same overseas. The 1968 Prague Spring was pretty cool – that was a nation playfully shrugging off communism with the sort of irony that only Czechs can manage – but the Russian tanks rolled in in August. That was over. Václav Havel would just have to wait, for a few decades. In Paris, the June student uprising that year shut down everything, and the government met a lot of the demands of the young, but the city, and the country, soon reverted to its usual formal prissiness and was once again a living museum for tourists, and that place where everyone knows how to live well, in elegance, where all the women are thin and the cheese is wonderfully stinky. Everyone still dreams of Paris, but not the 1968 Paris. Woody Allen made a movie about those dreams that doesn’t mention the events of 1968 at all. The sixties never happened. Hemingway is still mocking Fitzgerald in Gertrude Stein’s doorway, while Picasso looks on, or, alternatively, Beckett’s new Godot play is opening this week, and Sartre and Camus are having coffee over at the Flore, and young Miles Davis is playing tonight at that cellar jazz club on Rue Benoit. Choose your decade. It won’t be the sixties.
Perhaps the sixties were a bust, and there may be a reason for that. Perhaps the problem was that those who spoke for peace and love and all that were just too young – they didn’t have that gravitas thing going for them. Why listen to them? Martin Luther King forced change on America, or shamed America into changing, but he wasn’t a young punk or goofy jokester. He spoke from years of experience and careful study, not just from his heart. The antiwar crowd had no such figure. They may have been right about Vietnam, and also right about war in general, both morally and geopolitically, but there was no a priori reason to listen to them. People want to know whether the speaker is worth listening to – what thorough knowledge and hard-won experience he or she brings to the table – before they decided to evaluate what is said in this instance. The antiwar left of the sixties got that backwards. They thought that being right was the only thing that mattered. It doesn’t work that way. They needed someone on the “inside” of things to say what they were saying, perhaps a senator or something. If a few “serious” people had said exactly what they had been saying, then what they had been saying would be taken seriously. Having half a million people march on the Pentagon, and then surround it, hold hands, and chant in an attempt to levitate it, was really cool – but that doesn’t cut it. That was actually a bit counterproductive.
They really did have no one “serious” on their side, and never would have a heroic peace and love and social justice guy on their side. The next Democratic president after Lyndon Johnson was Jimmy Carter, the born-again evangelical peanut farmer who had once trained to command a nuclear submarine. Then it was Bill Clinton, famous for his “triangulation” – do a lot of conservative things, to coopt the Republicans, and just enough liberal things to keep your own base from being infuriated. Clinton was the one who said that “the era of big government is over” – and he meant it. Welfare reform and deregulation were his achievements. The little guy hardly mattered, and now it’s Obama, the careful guy whose most radical achievement is healthcare reform that is market based – everyone now can buy, and soon must buy, what private for-profit healthcare providers are selling. That’s not exactly radical. On the other hand, Obama did end our war in Iraq – but that was set up for him, and he’s also finding it hard to wind down things in Afghanistan. In short, Obama is no get-out-now antiwar radical, and he’s hardly a power-to-the-people socialist either, no matter what the folks on Fox News say. Obama seems to be an Eisenhower Republican at heart. Do no harm, or as little harm as possible, and play some golf.
This is depressing for hard-core Democrats, many of whom are those who thought the sixties would change everything and found out that just wasn’t so. There’s nowhere to turn now, except that might not be true. We left Iraq, the place fell apart, and what’s left of the neoconservatives are screaming that we never should have left and we need to go back in, and while establishment Democrats are trying to figure out what to say about this, we have a Republican senator deciding he will be the establishment antiwar voice, the one that was missing in the sixties. Rand Paul may be with the wrong party, and a Tea Party kind of guy, but he’s saying things like this:
I ask Governor Perry: How many Americans should send their sons or daughters to die for a foreign country – a nation the Iraqis won’t defend for themselves? How many Texan mothers and fathers will Governor Perry ask to send their children to fight in Iraq? I will not hold my breath for an answer. If refusing to send Americans to die for a country that refuses to defend itself makes one an ‘isolationist,’ then perhaps it’s time we finally retire that pejorative.
Damn – Mark Rudd couldn’t have said it better and the back-story is that Rand Paul wrote an op-ed last month opposing military intervention against ISIS rebels in Iraq and then Rick Perry wrote an op-ed of his own calling Paul an isolationist, and then Rand Paul wrote another op-ed responding to Perry – so they’ve been having at it. That’s a sitting governor, sitting right where George Bush was sitting just before he became president, and the rising new Republican star of the Senate. These aren’t long-haired college kids. Cool. And Ed Kilgore tries to summarize the dispute:
Perry, quickly capitalizing on his return to the national spotlight via the refugee crisis on the border, picked the fight with Paul in a WaPo column that could be boiled down to three words: “Isolationist! Isolationist! Isolationist!” It could be taken as an early sign that Paul’s 2016 opponents won’t make the mistake of his 2010 Senate primary opponent Trey Grayson in giving Paul a virtual pass on his heretical foreign policy views at a time when the subject may represent the most important area of genuine intraparty disagreement.
Paul’s response at Politico Magazine was more persuasive because it attempted something more nuanced than pointing and shouting “Unclean!” (About the only substantive argument in Perry’s piece was that we needed a renewed military engagement with Iraq because some Islamic State militants allegedly hold U.S. passports, a strange new twist on the old Bush administration “flypaper” theory). More importantly, it showed his three-pronged strategy for dealing with the “isolationist” attacks he will continue to attract: (1) challenging GOP hawks for the mantle of St. Ronald Reagan; (2) pointing to polls showing the extreme unpopularity of warmongering, thus making foreign policy an “electability” issue; and (3) denying the whole premise that he’s that different from other Republicans, in part by talking tough on national security issues that don’t involve military interventions.
Kilgore is wary:
Paul’s gotten pretty good at turning what would seem to be “isolationist” positions into emblems of truculence, viz. his makeover of a long-time proposal to cut off assistance to the Palestinian Authority into a “Stand with Israel” posture. But for eons Republicans have ultimately measured their presidential candidates’ acceptability on foreign policy and national security in terms of their willingness either to kill foreigners or spend more money, if not both. No matter how much he dresses up his old man’s non-interventionism in camo patterns and how loudly he plays martial music, so long as Rand Paul opposes every opportunity to kill foreigners while calling for lower defense spending, the “isolationist” label will be a problem for him, as the ghosts of both the Cold War and the War On Terror haunt him. I suspect opponents more skillful than Rick Perry will at some point make that plain.
Politico sees this:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) accused the Kentucky senator on CNN of wanting a “withdrawal to fortress America.” And former Vice President Dick Cheney declared at a POLITICO Playbook luncheon on Monday that “isolationism is crazy,” while his daughter, Liz Cheney, said Paul “leaves something to be desired, in terms of national security policy.”
The preemptive strikes suggest that many in GOP fear Paul is winning the foreign policy argument with the American people – and that that could make him a formidable candidate in 2016. After all, second-tier presidential hopefuls don’t usually get shouted down this way.
Where was this guy in the late sixties when we needed him? He actually got someone’s attention:
“Maybe [the Republican critics] are starting to realize that he could emerge as a leader of the party, and he’d be dangerous for the country,” said New York Rep. Peter King, one of the GOP’s most vocal foreign policy hawks. If Paul’s “views go unchallenged, it’s possible that people will become convinced they’re valid foreign policy views, and they’re not.”
Wait, wait, wait – what if they ARE valid foreign policy views? There’s no point in doing what doesn’t work:
Paul wrote that the governor’s new glasses apparently “haven’t altered his perception of the world, or allowed him to see it any more clearly.” And he argued that Perry’s solutions to the Iraq crisis aren’t really that different than his or even President Barack Obama’s – except that Perry is willing to send troops back into Iraq and Paul isn’t.
Paul’s advisers say his skepticism of military action is more widespread within the Republican Party than the foreign policy hawks wish to believe.
“It’s not isolationism. It’s setting a high bar for sending our sons and daughters overseas,” said Lorne Craner, a foreign policy adviser to Paul who served in the State Department under both Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.
Still, there’s fear:
The hawks don’t doubt that there are some Republicans who share Paul’s views. But they’re concerned that, in the heat of a presidential campaign, the coverage will make the foreign policy debate within the GOP sound more evenly divided than it really is. … Others worry that Republican voters who aren’t big on foreign policy have long been presumed to support hawks, but now may be increasingly siding with Paul.
Paul’s cautious stance on foreign intervention is just the latest example of the many divides within the GOP, which already has infighting among tea party, establishment and other factions on everything from immigration to the Export-Import Bank.
But, as chaos increasingly spreads in the Middle East (the Israeli-Palestinian flare-up being the latest crisis), Republicans also sense a growing opportunity to take on Democrats in the foreign policy realm.
The hawks, in particular, have been accusing Obama of pulling out of Iraq too early and not recognizing the dangers of the growing terrorist threat posed there by the militant network known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
“I think the very first step … is to recognize that there is a threat,” Cheney said Monday. Yet even he acknowledged that there’s growing public fatigue from always having to watch out for terrorist threats: “You’ve got folks who simply don’t want to be bothered, and it’s been a long time since 9/11,” he said.
Paul, however, says the real problem in Iraq is that “there aren’t that many good choices right now” – and that he’s not about to call for sending the troops back in when, in his view, the Iraqis didn’t fight very hard for their own security.
Now there’s trouble, and Tweety Bird, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews just had to jump in:
Matthews began his show Monday evening by taking on the “big civil war” that’s broken out in the Republican Party, this time between Paul and Texas Governor Rick Perry. He compared the fight brewing in the GOP over the Iraq War to the explosion that occurred in the Democratic Party at the 1968 Chicago convention over Vietnam.
“Just as then, the party that prosecuted the war is the one suffering from the division,” he said. “Back then it was Lyndon Johnson defending himself against Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy. Today, it’s another Texas hawk defending himself against Rand Paul.”
Matthews quoted Richard Nixon of all people, from Pat Buchanan’s new book The Greatest Comeback, to make his point that Paul would emerge victorious.
“If you ever hear of a group forming to stop X, put your money on X,” Nixon reportedly told the author.
“If Rick Perry is out to stop Rand Paul, then history shows the senator from Kentucky might be the candidate who wins this is thing, the one going up against Hillary Clinton,” Matthews said. “If they are already ganging up on Rand Paul and Perry thinks the smart thing to do is pile on, I say, put a few bucks on Rand Paul. I would.”
Hey, Paul with these words did throw down the gauntlet:
On foreign policy, Perry couldn’t be more stuck in the past, doubling down on formulas that haven’t worked, parroting rhetoric that doesn’t make sense and reinforcing petulant attitudes that have cost our nation a great deal.
If repeating the same mistakes over and over again is what Perry advocates in U.S. foreign policy, or any other policy, he really should run for president. In Washington, he’d fit right in, because leading Republicans and Democrats not only supported the Iraq war in the first place, but leaders of both parties campaigned on it in 2008.
Again, where was this guy in the late sixties when we needed him? No major figure back then would say such a thing, only the gadflies would, and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza considers the implications:
What Paul is proposing is that he is the Republican candidate willing (and able) to handle the party’s long-delayed reckoning with the war in Iraq. That conflict, premised on the false idea that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, has never been fully litigated within the GOP. President George W. Bush spent his time in office defending this rightness of the effort, and the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, was arguably even more hawkish than Bush on Iraq. In the aftermath of the 2008 loss, the voice that filled the leadership vacuum for Republicans was former Vice President Dick Cheney, who steadfastly defended the policies of the Bush Administration. Four years later, the struggles of the domestic economy pushed discussion of Iraq (or any other foreign policy issues) out of the public’s collective consciousness.
It’s about time:
Even while Republicans were avoiding the debate over whether the party had made a major mistake in its policies toward Iraq, the political consequences were being made plain. Democrats retook control of the House and Senate in 2006 due, at least in part, to Bush’s fading numbers on Iraq. Then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s entire candidacy – for the Senate and later the presidency – was premised on his opposition to the war in Iraq. Without Iraq, it’s difficult to see how Obama finds a foothold against Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008. Without Iraq, the race between Obama and McCain in 2008 is far closer.
The back-and-forth op-eds between Paul and Perry make clear that the debate about Iraq, the mistakes made there and what it means for Republican foreign policy going forward will be a prominent feature of the 2016 Republican primary race. And, there is reason to believe that Paul’s position on Iraq is one shared by a relatively large number of Republicans. In a June New York Times/CBS News poll, 63 percent of self-identified Republicans said that the war in Iraq was not worth it.
That’s why Rand Paul is on safe ground, as long as he uses Ronald Reagan for cover, saying things like this:
Strength does not always mean war. Reagan ended the Cold War without going to war with Russia. He achieved a relative peace with the Soviet Union – the greatest existential threat to the United States in our history – through strong diplomacy and moral leadership.
That’s it, throw Reagan-in-Reykjavik in their face, and Cillizza adds this:
What Paul is arguing is that the war in Iraq was a mistake because his party (and many Democrats) didn’t take the time to think through all of the consequences of it beforehand. And that being the most powerful nation in the world doesn’t mean that always taking the most muscular option when it comes to dealing with other countries is the right thing to do.
Politically speaking, that position leaves Paul open to the attack that he a) doesn’t think America is what it was once and b) is less-than-hard-edged on the war on terrorism. Again, Perry: “Paul’s brand of isolationism (or whatever term he prefers) would compound the threat of terrorism even further.”
This is the opening skirmish in a much broader fight about the future of Republican foreign policy that is coming in the 2016 campaign. Paul is the catalyst of that important conversation.
That is obviously true, but that may be looking at this too narrowly. The future of Republican foreign policy isn’t the only issue here. Rand Paul, if successful, could free up a lot of Democrats, those who always cave to those who scream for more war, now, because those timid Democrats don’t want to be seen as weak and be made to go away in the next election. Now they can vote for alternatives to immediate war and say look, even the rising star in the Republican Party knows better. Heck, we’d have, finally, the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. You know, harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding, no more falsehoods or derisions, golden living dreams of visions, mystic crystal revelation and the mind’s true liberation – all that stuff.
Well, maybe not all that stuff, but John McCain could retire, and Dick Cheney could devote himself entirely to fly-fishing and shooting little quail, when he’s not shooting his hunting partner in the face – and we might find ourselves in fewer wars that do no one any good at all, even us. If this works out, the sixties wouldn’t have been a bust after all. All we needed was a Republican hippie. It seems we got one.