Sunday’s Washington Post contains a somewhat brief article titled “Dean Tries to Summon Spirit of the 1960s: Candidate’s Recollections Differ From Historians’ Views of a Turbulent Decade” that explains a lot about the attraction of Dean’s campaign amongst the aging hippie set, academia, and wannabes that make up the most passionate of his following:
Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has a vision of where he’d like to take the nation. It turns out to be the 1960s. … His references to the ’60s, Dean makes clear in an interview, are something personal. “We felt the possibilities were unlimited then,” he said last week. “We were making such enormous progress. It resonates with a lot of people my age. People my age really felt that way.”
As history, however, Dean’s memories of the era are selective. Rather than the time of great national unity and purpose he describes, the 1960s were a period of great upheaval, and surely rank among the most divisive for America in the 20th century.
Paul Farhi makes it clear that the mainstream media is about to declare 2004 as open season on Howard Dean by perfectly capturing the hypocrisy that turns everyone else off of the Democratic front-runner:
During this period, Dean had no apparent involvement in the emerging causes and issues of the day. After entering Yale University in 1967, he was a popular but unremarkable student who took no role in campus protests against the war, or in a local issue, the trials of members of the Black Panther party in New Haven in early 1970, friends have said. After avoiding military service with a student deferment, he was eligible to serve by 1971, but presented evidence of a bad back and was rejected. He subsequently spent nine months in Aspen, Colo., skiing and working odd jobs, such as washing dishes and pouring concrete. He then became a stockbroker, following his father, a prominent figure on Wall Street, before entering medical school.
The 60s, as Farhi states, were hardly a model of unity. For a model of unity and purpose, Dean would find the 1940s much more applicable, especially since terrorists have attacked the country and made it clear that they are in open war with the United States (and have been for at least two decades; we were just too dense to notice it). Even the 1950s demonstrated national unity and purpose as the Cold War broke out into the open. But these are eras that the aging hippie set eschews; instead, this subset of the boomer generation identifies with social and political conflict as a kind of war, where opponents are evil and cartoonish and Republican, and long-haired socialists who burn draft cards (and burn more than that) are the true heroes.
Dean wants to evoke not a national unity, but a leftist unity. Farhi makes clear that Dean has no business even evoking such a legacy, distorted and rose-tinted as he makes it, as Dean invested none of himself in the original conflict. What Dean is attempting, in Minnesota terms, is to hijack the Wellstone legacy and assume it for himself without paying any of the dues that Wellstone did. I was no fan of Paul Wellstone’s politics — I think that Wellstone stood for socialism and dangerous deconstruction of American security, but Wellstone at least would have legitimate claim to the legacy that Dean is trying to steal.
Dean wants the US to return to an era of unprecedented divisiveness and political violence when he did his level best to avoid every last bit of it the first time around. His supporters routinely yell “Chickenhawk” at supporters of George Bush and the war on terror; perhaps this epithet would be more applicable to their own candidate.
UPDATE: Power Line notes that the New York Times may play Conscientious Objector in the Dean media war … or perhaps they also have a bad spine, or none at all.