From the day Richard Nixon was nominated in 1968 until Tuesday afternoon, forty years later, when John McCain began running this "Love" commercial, Republicans have been running against us. All of us who share a history of opposing the Vietnam war and working to elect an anti-war president. Against everything we ever were, believed, dreamed, voted for, marched against, volunteered to change, spoke about, created, sang, wrote, painted, sculpted or said to one another on the subway or the campus or anyplace else from preschool parent nights to Seders to the line at the supermarket.
How is it possible that what we tried to do is still the last best hope to elect a Republican? They used it against John Kerry. They used it against Max Cleland. They did it every time (well, almost) they were losing policy battles in the Clinton years. They called CSPAN and said unspeakable things. And now they are using the history of people my side of sixty to run against a man who was, if my math is right, seven years old during this notorious "summer of love" which - I might add, had nothing to do with those of us working to end the war. In fact, there were two strands of rebellion in those years. The Summer of Love/ Woodstock folks and the political, anti-war activists.
At the 1967 National Student Association Convention in Maryland, I saw a room full of students boo Timothy Leary off the stage, literally. We didn't want to "turn on, tune in, drop out" we wanted to organize against the war. The anti-war movement was not a party. I know that's not a bulletin but it is so hard to see all of us reduced to a single mistaken stereotype. Those who chose to find a personal solution weren't nuts; communes and home-made bread were a lot more immediate gratification than march after march, teach-in after teach-in, speech after speech. "If you're goin' to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair." Tempting, romantic - and not us.
Even more painful is the fact that the cultural and political divide is still so intense that research (I assume) told the McCain guys that this commercial would work. That our patriotic, committed efforts to change our country's path, and the cultural alienation that drove others toward the streets of San Francisco, combine to become a stronger motivator than all the desperate issues we face today, this side of those 40 years. Perhaps even worse, these Bush years have dismantled so many of the successes we did have, so that in addition to facing, yet again, this smear against the activism of 1968 (and I repeat, that was forty years ago -- longer than most of the bloggers I know have been alive) there's the awareness of what we did that has been undone.
I need to say here that I grew up on the shores of the Monongehela River in Pittsburgh and my classmates were kids who mostly went into the steel mills or the Army after high school. I knew plenty of supporters of the war. I went to prom and hung out at the Dairy Queen with them. But it never occurred to me to demonize them, to hold against them their definition of patriotism. I'm not writing off or looking down upon those who did support the war; I'm saying that this cynical, craven abuse of the devotion of people on both sides to the future of their country is reprehensible and precisely the kind of behavior that has broken the hearts of so many Americans, on those both sides of the political spectrum, who just want their candidates to lead us in hope for what our country can be, not defame others whose dreams aren't quite the same as theirs.