You are herecontent / 2005 = 1/1965?
2005 = 1/1965?
By Steve Cobble
It was the worst of times, for right-wingers. Pundits were wondering if their political influence had faded completely, gone for good.
Their golden boy had just been trounced, extending a liberal reign that had begun with JFK's close, disputed presidential election.
The Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, and the Warren Court was in full stride.
LBJ & Dr. King & the liberals had pushed through the Civil Rights Act the year before, and in one short stretch in the summer of '65 also passed the Voting Rights Act and Medicare.
Liberal power was at its peak.
But the Vietnam War was escalating, dividing the country.
And then a great city erupted in flames, in the Watts riots--a dream deferred...
For the next 40 years, it was mostly downhill from August, 1965.
3 years later, the Republicans had their restoration, as conservatives grudgingly fell in line to elect former Vice-President Nixon to the White House. (Does historic equivalence = a Hillary restoration in '08?)
11 years later, their new hero, Reagan, challenged a sitting GOP president in the primaries, probably cost him the fall elections, yet escaped blameless and on top of the party.
4 years later, only 16 years after the devastation of Goldwater's defeat, he was elected president, taking the Senate in along with him, and the far right was in charge and taking names.
A generation later, and they finally captured all 3 branches of government at the same time. They seemed to be riding high.
The problem was, their party had become a cult.
Their leaders were mean misleaders, corrupt, petty.
Their politics were dominated by a far right that was way out of step with most of the country and almost all of the world, yet able to maintain power through money, total message discipline, a media echo machine, a war mentality, and a brilliantly amoral politics of division and personal destruction.
They started an unnecessary and illegal war, and their support began crumbling away.
They forget the "compassionate" part of their slogan, demonstrating time and again their callousness towards those left behind by the market.
And then a great city drowned, a dream deferred even more, and their callousness and incompetence played a role in the deaths of thousands.
They have peaked.
Our time is coming. We're not ready yet, but it is.
Flip everything you read in the first paragraphs above, and their position in 1965 becomes our position in 2005.
2005 for us feels just like 1965 for them.
The weekend that George W. was reinaugurated, I moderated a panel for the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), a spirited new group meeting to take up the challenge of rebuilding the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
I offered this same little history lesson to open the panel session. 40 years ago, their side was in despair, in danger of total irrelevance. 3 years later, their party--if not their viewpoint--was restored to power. 15 years later, and their viewpoint triumphed.
We should learn from them.
They kept their eyes on the prize. They dreamed big dreams, and didn't really compromise too much. They challenged their own party when it drifted, and ignored the complaints. They found their leaders-to-be, trained them, funded them, and backed them to the hilt.
They developed ideas. They were serious about including the next generation. Where they were lacking institutions, they built them. When they came up short, they didn't start over (as we appear to be doing with ACT, for instance)--they improved them, and built them stronger.
They weren't afraid to lose, if it moved the political agenda their way. Their hero, Reagan, put himself forward in 1968 as a candidate for president, an actor with a grand total of 2 years of political life, and didn't bat an eye when people laughed at him. 8 years later, he took on a sitting GOP president, and lost--but his alliance with Jesse Helms transformed the Republican Party, and they never looked back. When the Carter years crumbled under the weight of high oil prices, a bad economy, and the crisis in Iran, Reagan won the White House.
And when he did, he remembered the issues that had gotten him there. I have never been a fan of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, but I will grant them both this--they knew why they wanted to be president, and when they won, they stuck to their agenda.
As the pendulum swings back, reality-based politics kicks back in, and W reaches new lows in popularity previously attained by his father, we can only hope future progressive presidents show the same iron will.
Our job is to "help" them win, yes, and then to be strong--with our organizing and base turnout, so that their ability to maneuver and compromise is restricted; with our new policy ideas, so that there is an agenda worth fighting for when the far right is finally ousted; and with our big dreams, so that the coming era is not just a holding operation, but a transformation.
2005. A better America is possible.