Tag Archives: 1968

Waiting for Barack… A Question for Progressives

Recently, a spate of news articles and books about the bankruptcy of the conservative republican revolution brought to light the specter of a new 21st century brand of progressive politics.  This brand both celebrates the netroots and harkens back to Bobby Kennedy (in a non Clintonian way) and the anti war movement of 1968.  In terms of leading figures, Barack Obama is the 2008 version of Bobby Kennedy (in a non Clintonian way).

Perhaps, but here are 3 potential counter-factuals, coalescing around the proposition that progressives simply may be waiting for Obama ( the idea of a transformative leader), who may never come, and if he elected, this “great man” approach to political history may not suffice… 

1) The anti war movement in 2008 looks nothing like the anti war movement in 1968. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to point to much of a real anti war movement at all outside the progressive blogosphere, and even there it has been overrun by pro-obama coverage.  By contrast, in ’68, Eugene McCarthy and then RFK rode the crest of the anti-war wave to incredible popular support; in 2008 there has been little wave to ride.

Consider the fact that last week was the 40th anniversary of the Catonsville 9.  Back in May, 1968, Dan and Phil Berrigan (and 7 several notable others) stormed into the Catonsville, MD., draft office, walked behind the counter, took draft records, walked out back and set them ablaze in the parking lot.  The ensuing case caught the public’s attention like few symbolic acts have since.  Simply unfathomable to imagine a similar spectacle in 2008.  The Camp Casey protest in Crawford Texas dissipated for want of public attention; the public seems uninterested in the amazing story Pat Tillman’s mom is telling about the cover-up of his friendly fire death, and the public is simply turning away from Iraq war stories conveyed in books, news articles and even movies.  In ’68 anger turned to social mobilization. In ’08 it turns to discrete blogging parties.

This ennui towards the war is hardly the stuff of a successful progressive movement.  Progressives seem to be saying, let’s hold our breath for Obama, and all will be well…

2) George W Bush has committed multiple offenses against the US Constitution and the American people, and yet, hardly a whimper.  Calls for impeachment and with it the archiving of evidence for the historical record have long ago been quieted by the MSM and Democratic leadership, but few on the left are insistently protesting this administration’s blatant abuses of power.   Wait for Obama, the left seems to be saying, and all will be well…

3) Barack Obama is in a statistical dead heat, more or less, against John McCain.  Progressives have certainly conributed money to his campaign, and have helped with pro-Barack voter registration around the country, but the question remains… what happens to progressives, if Obama loses?

what happens to the anti-war movement then?

what about mitigating the blatant abuses of executive power, then?

what if the left is simply waiting for Obama, and he never comes, or he comes, and it is not enuf?

Hillary and Hubert

As the ’08 campaign settles into a marathon pace, some salient lessons from the 1968 primary campaign are once again worth noting.

Last year, campaign junkies started looking to 1968 for comparisons. The question was whether Barack or John or Hillary were the ’08 version of Bobby Kennedy in 68. I thought Edwards was Bobby Kennedy. They spoke economic justice and parted their hair the same. Barack was Gene McCarthy, the anti-war upstart, (or JFK for the now cliched 1960 comparison), and Hillary was Hubert Humphrey.

As the primary season takes form, Hillary is looking more and more like Hubert Humphrey. It is worth another glance.

Consider the following shared characteristics:

1) progressive precursor. Early in their public careers, both Hillary and Hubert were active in progressive causes, Humphrey’s advocacy of civil rights in 1948 and Hillary’s work for children at the Children’s Defense Fund brought each to national attention and brought public attention to progressive causes.

2) supplicant. Later, each spent 2 terms (almost 2 terms for HHH) in close proximity to the White House, a somewhat abused supplicant to a powerful president (think LBJ/ Vietnam, and Bill/Monica), and each suffered great personal pain and public condemnation for their loyalty. Humphrey’s loyalty to LBJ ultimately showed weakness and a lack of principle and doomed any chance he had in becoming president. Anti war democrats never forgave Humphrey; many women never forgave Clinton. residual effect on Hillary?

2) circumventing the will of the people. In terms of strategy, in 1968, Humphrey wrested the nomination with a strategy relying on non-primary delegates, a precursor to Clinton’s focus on super delegates. Hillary is currently losing the pledged delegate contest (tho barely) and her campaign (using Bill and Chelsea) is increasingly leaning on super-delegates to cast their lot with her before the end of the primary season. Given a deadlock in pledged delegates or a narrow loss to Obama, Clinton is relying on super-delegates to get the nomination.

4) religion/race demagogue. For some other similarities, it is worth noting that Humphrey previously had run for president against John F Kennedy, to whom Obama is compared. Like the Clinton’s, Humphrey’s thirst for power in 1960, twisted his thinking into exploiting JFK’s Catholicism in Wisconsin and West Virginia to Humphrey’s advantage. It backfired. The Clinton’s took similar action against Obama in S.C., to similar effect.

5) blind ambition. Humphrey’s personal ambition blinded him to the riots taking place outside the Chicago convention hall. His inability to take a principled stand against the police abuse of anti war protesters left the party divided and doomed his candidacy. Now? Many observers note a similarly principle-starved Clinton campaign.

6) personal style. Finally,they both share a style on the stump that exude a sense of happy and upbeat competence, which never quite rings true.

Humphrey’s ’68 debacle brought us Nixon and Watergate. At this low ebb after seven years of Cheney/Bush, can we as a country survive a McCain/Nixon presidency?