Partisan politics have been dominating the national news cycle recently, and as so many things do for writers of a certain age, recent events remind Bill Keller a lot of the 1960s.
The former New York Times executive editor wrote Sunday that the conservative crusade to defund or otherwise stop the Affordable Care Act from going into effect this week didn’t make any sense – not even to many Republicans.
Keller writes that tea party zealots were threatening to hold the government hostage to kill the law, which has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, and a song that came out when he was in college might offer some insight.
“What’s happening here ain’t exactly clear,” Keller said, quoting a 1966 song written by Stephen Stills. “But I have a notion: The Republicans are finally having their ‘60s. Half a century after the American left experienced its days of rage, its repudiation of the political establishment, conservatives are having their own political catharsis.”
Keller cast the retrograde Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as the “spotlight-loving” Abbie Hoffman, because this is a 1960s analogy, and the tea party was compared to the “manifesto-brandishing” Students for a Democratic Society.
Of course, as Columbia University history professor Todd Gitlin points out to Keller, the recalcitrant Hoffman would never have run for Senate.
To pad the analogy, Keller compares the right’s threat to “blow up America’s credit rating” to civil disobedience campaigns, such as lunch counter sit-ins, and Obamacare, which will extend affordable health care coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, to the Vietnam War, which cost more than 58,000 American lives.
“To those of us who lived through the actual ’60s, the conservative sequel may seem more like an adolescent tantrum than a revolution,” Keller writes. “For obvious starters, their mobilizing cause is not putting an end to an indecent war that cost three million lives, but defunding a law that promises to save lives by expanding access to insurance. Printing up unofficial ‘Obamacare Cards’ and urging people to burn them is a silly parody of the protest that raged 50 years ago. But bear with me.”
Keller says a sense that government had forfeited its legitimacy and the liberal establishment had sold out was what animated the 1960s radicals, similar to what he sees now from conservatives.
He compares the “libertarian flank” who were drawn to the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll of the 1960s radical movement to the “political freeloaders drawn by the addictive drugs of power and television attention.”
Keller also compares national televised news and the discussion of previously private issues such as sexuality and women’s rights in the 1960s to cultural disorientation and privacy concerns generated by the Internet and social media.
“Conditions are ripe for the rise of new leaders, some of whom will be demagogues and charlatans,” Keller writes.
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