Thursday, May 27, 2010

Always Crashing The Same Car

David Paul Kuhn writes some of the only mature words I have been able to find regarding the twinned Richard Blumenthal/Rand Paul controversies: The 60's and Why We Still Fight

Both issues concern not only personal honor but also what our culture (or cultures) honor. The sixties is a metaphor. It encompasses battles that predate and postdate it. And to this day, those battles force us to decide what we shall honor.

That forces us to confront who "we" also are. So it's not simply that Americans of the sixties are still with us, even lead us. It's also that many of us, who were not there, are with them. We are invested in their story because it's an expression of our story, and in aggregate, an expression of the American story.

Today, we tend to take refuge in an airbrushed American story. We want to believe in consensus. That we now honor civil rights. That we now honor our veterans. That America has moved on.

These events remind us of how we have not moved on. The divides are far smaller today. But they remain deep. Each event returns us to that depth and those divisions. And it is those divisions that define us. And it is what defines us that we defend.

"What was fought over in the sixties were controversies so deep, with such reverberation throughout American history, it's not surprising that they reverberate for decades. They get to fundamental values, for which there is no consensus," Gitlin said. "I'm not surprised that it reverberates. Is it surprising when the San Andreas Fault quivers?"

Yes and no. Yes, because of the initial shock. But also no. Because the fault line endures.

A problem with the endless Sixties flashback is that smug Baby Boomers can't or won't acknowledge that the America of 2010 is nothing like the America of 1968. Instead, we cannot experience events in our own time without seeing them reflected in a Sixties prism. Every military engagement is another Viet Nam, even when after the homeland is attacked. Every slighted minority group is a civil rights violation, even when the minority might be part of the oppressive majority (i.e. white males in the gay community). And every Democrat is a "new JFK" while every Republican is a "new Bull Conner," never mind that Connor was a Democrat.

While Blumenthal and Paul are responsible for their stumbles, the political and media environment largely demands that they pay obeisance to shibboleths first set down 45 years ago. Were people in 1965 talking about the Harding Administration? Of course not, but we are doing the equivalent, and for no better reason than that it's a sort of media vaudville act where everyone knows their lines, and the moves were taped down years ago.

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