BY THEIR FRUITS SHALL YE KNOW THEM. The starting point for today's mini-dissertation is John at Left2Right holding forth on the Port Huron Statement.
During the 1960s the efforts of the student left to bring about social change became intertwined with the counterculture, and subsequently, as our memory of the period blurs, those efforts and the seriousness of purpose behind them have lost their separate identity. The loss has been a boon to social critics of the right. After all, how hard can it be to dismiss the political movements of that period if you identify their ideals with the simplistic utopianism of Woodstock?
Um, not too hard, if that's exactly what is still going on.
The reason The Port Huron Statement remains an important document is that it is a model political manifesto of the American left. It puts forth a simple but very powerful idea, democracy that enlists the active participation of its citizens in its institutions, and it uses this idea to analyze the social conditions of its time, to criticize, in view of those conditions, the political and economic institutions that produced them, and to propose remedies that would move the country toward being a more truly democratic republic. The American left, as far as I'm aware, has produced nothing like it since.
You sure you want to have a more "democratic" republic, what with 80% of the population observing Christmas? One does not have to be familiar with Gramsci (although Rush Limbaugh has invoked him) to understand "capturing the institutions." Perhaps there is something happening here, although it's going to be the use of Gramscian tactics for other ends.

If you want clarity, read Armed Liberal.
I find myself in a risky place surrounded by people who have lost the ability to tell bullshit from reality. Our party is wounded, leaking ideologically and demographically, and we sit here drinking quack nostrums made from apricot pits and listening to fake spirit mediums tell us everything will be OK because our dead ancestors FDR, JFK, and LBJ are looking over us.
His context is the continued denial in the Liberal Media (TM) that there is in fact a Liberal Media (TM). But he's got a message for his side.

First, we can't decide on good actions because we have no idea what reality looks like.

Second, we won't get elected because the voters don't believe we're connected to any reality that they recognize or that we can prove.

Both are bad for the Democratic Party, bad for journalism, and bad for the country. Are only the Democrats like this? Of course not. But right now, we're the party stuck in the mud and sinking.

Mark Steyn has the same observations, if not the same sympathies.
Two plausible parties are necessary for a functioning democracy, especially in war, especially in a long war which will inevitably have to be fought by presidents both Republican and Democrat. The Dems might get lucky. The GOP might nominate some freaky goofball in '08, and the other fellow will win by default. But, as the 2004 field reminded us, this isn't a party exactly brimming with talent and fresh faces. And, as for ideas, when was the last time you heard a fresh policy from a Democrat? The serious arguments about war, social security, immigration and pretty much everything else are all within factions of the right. The Democrats' only contribution is to insist that someone in Halliburton has figured out a way to get the touch-screen voting machines to make Democrats' votes vanish. Democrats' votes are vanishing because Democrat voters are vanishing because Democrat intellectual energy has all but vanished. Or as Republican Congresswoman Deborah Pryce summed up Thursday's Boxer rebellion: ''Their objection is a front for their lack of ideas.''
And people notice. Andrew Sullivan points to a City Journal article continuing the rediscovery of a different sort of student rebellion on campus.
The new-millennium campus conservative is comfortably at home in popular culture, as I’ve found interviewing 50 or so from across the country. A favorite TV show, for instance, is Comedy Central’s breathtakingly vulgar cartoon South Park. “Not only is it hilariously uncouth, but it also criticizes the hypocrisy of liberals,” explains Washington University economics major Matt Arnold. “The funniest part is that most liberals watch the show but are so stupid that they’re unaware they’re being made fun of,” he says, uncharitably. The young conservatives, again like typical college kids, also play their iPods night and day, listening less to Bach and Beethoven than to alt-rock, country-and-western, and hip-hop.
But the youngsters have noticed something.

Yet a deeper reason for the rightward shift, which began well before 9/11, is the Left’s broader intellectual and political failure. American college kids grew up in an era that witnessed both communism’s fall and the unchained U.S. economy’s breathtaking productivity surge. They’ve seen that anyone willing to work hard—regardless of race or sex—can thrive in such an opportunity-rich system. “I’m only 20, so I don’t remember segregation or the oppression of women—in fact, my mother had a very successful career since I was a kid,” one student observed in an online discussion. “I look around and don’t see any discrimination against minorities or women.” Left-wing charges of U.S. economic injustice sound like so much BS to many kids today.

The destructive effects of “just-do-it” values on the family are equally evident to many undergrads, who have painfully felt those effects themselves or watched them rip up the homes of their friends. They turn to family values with the enthusiasm of converts. Even their support of homosexual civil unions may spring from their rejection of the world of casual hookups, broken marriages, and wounded children that liberalism has produced. “Heterosexuals have already done a decent job of cheapening marriage on their own,” observes Vanderbilt’s Malinee.

To the university administrators, however, the hook-ups and the friendships with benefits are permissible in the "gender-neutral" dorms and in the remaining hippie communes, but not -- another echo of the Sixties -- in the "irrelevant" fraternities.
It's doom and gloom time for many fraternity boys at Northwestern and at colleges across the country. University administrators, alarmed by the extent of binge drinking on their campuses, are cracking down on the excesses of Greek life, saying it's high time for fraternity boys to shape up and sober up. While all kinds of college students binge drink, the 2001 College Alcohol Study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that fraternity house residents are twice as likely to do so as other students.
University Diaries has a proper smackdown of those efforts.

The Times article helps UD understand why she, a “fraternity-mocking English major” (as the NU grad who wrote the Times piece calls himself), has always found fraternities and sororities pretty rank. Like a lot of people who become professors (see UD post dated February 11, 2004), UD is both group-averse and kitsch-phobic. Life in frats, judging by the Times article, represents a distillation of her dreads: it’s about sloppy sentiment in large gatherings.

So, for instance, in place of the pissed-boy bonding at the heart of frat life, reformers have inaugurated equally embarrassing alcohol-free campaigns: frats, according to the Times, are now about “Brotherhood - Our Substance of Choice,” and “Balanced Man” programs. Ick.

Apparently "do your own thing" does not apply to the fraternities.

So how hard, then, to dismiss the ideals of the Sixties? Simply evaluate their consequences. It's not too hard to get polemical. Here comes Book Review No. 1 of an intended fifty (via Will at Crescat Sententia and Chris at Signifying Nothing) to complete within a year. The first arrived last Friday and I've already finished it: Mona Charen's Do-Gooders (details or compare prices.) Ms Charen has written a polemic. If you like the red meat, by all means read it. Sample (from p. 121):

Just as liberals claim to be pro-worker but urge policies that are antibusiness, they claim to be pro-child while encouraging social mores and government policies that undermine the family. Every liberal initiative, from welfare to antismoking measures, is justified by reference to "the children." Yet the clear result of liberal policies is to harm children even more than adults. Liberals are prepared to erect social welfare scaffolding to support the "families" of single women -- those families that are most likely to cause harm to children -- and yet they shrink from the most obvious solution to child maltreatment: encouraging and promoting marriage and traditional family structure. The children of divorce and illegitimacy have paid the price for liberalism's attachment to free love and radical individualism. Abused and neglected children have paid the price for liberalism's tendency to sentimentalize the poor.

In fact, liberalism in various guises -- feminism, the sexual revolution, gay activism -- has been at war with marriage and family for several decades now. And when do-gooders look around at the wreckage of human lives caused by disintegrating families, they call for government to act as father, mother, brother, and sister.

Wow. Take two deep breaths. I know just enough about the post hoc fallacy to be dangerous. To be sure, what came after some of the reforms Ms Charen condemns was not the outcome the reformers anticipated. All the same, her book would be more credible with at least some acknowledgement of the legal thinking behind some of the Warren Court's (yes, she, too, is refighting the Sixties) rulings or of the social science policy analysis that's out there.

To pull it all together, perhaps there is nothing more than the "simplistic utopianism of Woodstock" in much public policy. But there is no convincing improvement offered by polemicists of the Left, nor convincing refutation offered by polemicists of the Right.

No comments: