This morning I attended a briefing by NYT Political Reporter Matt Bai; he was speaking on his new book The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics . It's a thoughtful, exciting look at American politics - very original. Although if you've read his stuff you know that's no surprise.
I was taking notes, so I headed the page with the date - and was stunned. It was a memorable day, at least for me.
Remember the Vietnam
War? Or at least all the stories you've been told about it? Today, October 15th, is the 38th
anniversary of one of the major demonstrations against that war -- after the
chaos of 1968 and the election of Richard Nixon: the Vietnam
Described as the largest demonstration
in US history, it was quite a day. Astonishingly, Richard Nixon went to the
Lincoln Memorial -- in secret, in the middle of the night -- to talk to
the demonstrators camping out on the grounds there. Not astonishingly,
hundreds were tear-gassed and rounded up -- many on the way to class at George Washington University,
Yeah the middle class was there - and people even older than I am now. It made a lot
of noise and got a remarkable amount of attention. Jerry Rubin and
Abbie Hoffman showed up, on bail from the Chicago Seven trial, and pulled
off wigs to show that their hair had been shorn, like Sampson, by their Chicago jailers.
Of course the
war didn't end. Years later an alleged Soviet spy told an interviewer
that the demonstrations had been a dead give-away to the Russians that the US could not sustain the effort. Who knows? It was just one more huge event in
many efforts to make the war go away. I have just read that one of the leaders of SDS and one of my
favorite thinkers, Todd Gitlin, in his new book, has urged today's activists to
learn from what went wrong then. They'd better. For all we tried to
do, we never got where we wanted to go and we left a legacy of polarization
that still provides fodder for opponents in the culture wars. It was a noble effort and probably helped demonstrate anti-war sentiment but now, in these times, we need a new way to do that. It's intriguing that two highly-regarded thinkers like Bai and Gitlin are both looking at the future of Progressives at the same time -- just a year before the next presidential election.
What do you think? What should we have learned from the battles of the 60s -- and of the early years of this century? What do we still have left to find out?