Another Sixties: The New Right, Part III
Paul Lyons, Richard Stockton State College
This essay was originally presented as a paper at the Sixties Generations conference, March 1993, Fairfax. VA.
My initial curiosity in the New Right baby boomers was stimulated by several sources. In his memoir New York in the Fifties, Dan Wakefield recalls
Wakefield caroused at Greenwich Village's White Horse Tavern with the Clancy brothers,. the young Mike Harrington, bohemians from the Voice and libertarians from Young Americans for Freedom. He was struck by the "unexpected new aggregation of young conservatives [who] began to form around Barry Goldwater at the 1960 Republican convention in Chicago," and by a 1962 Goldwater rally at Madison Square Garden that brought together 18,000 young conservatives. He assumed, as late as 1963, that "the conservative boomlet on campuses was a rising tide that would define the Sixties generation." In 1962 Murray Kempton proclaimed, "We must assume that the conservative revival is the youth movement of the sixties." Wakefield projected that the Goldwater youth movement "may even be as important to its epoch as the Young Communist League was to the thirties." 17
Wakefield suggests that "we lefty liberals and right-wing conservatives found more common ground of conversation and interest with one another than with all those people who didn't give a hoot about politics, the great yawning masses of the middle." 18 It is here where the two ring circus of New Left and New Right activists is set, linked by their common revulsion for the corporate, suburban, bureaucratic realities they faced. They were rival youth movement, ill at ease with what seemed an end of ideology.
A second source leading me to the Sixties New Right was the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. The initial burst of campus activism, following the banning of on-campus fund-raising by Friends of SNCC and the subsequent arrest and suspension of nonviolent resisters, involved what at that point was called the United Front of clubs, which in October 1964, demanded re-instatement and a defense of free speech and political activity. This front included not only Young Democrats, CORE, ACLU, YSA, the Independent Socialist Club, SLATE (the campus political party), the W.E.B. DuBois Club, SDS, and Women for Peace, but also the Young Republicans and California Students for Goldwater. The initial burst of youthful activism was a rebellion against middle-American conformity; both SDSers and YAFers stood against the jocks and the Greeks who taunted them outside of Sproul Hall. 19 The "newness" of both New Left and New Right was in their resistance to bigness, to impersonal, bureaucratic structures--big corporations, big unions, multiversities. The corporate liberalism attacked by the New Left intellectuals of Studies on the Left was analogous to the welfare state excoriated by the Austrian School of free-market economics. And, of course, a number of young conservative intellectuals--Gary Wills, Karl Hess--uncomfortable with the New Right's militarism in the Vietnam era, with its apologetics for corporate America, and with its racism, discovered that they could only pursue their principles by moving left. 20
I don't wish to exaggerate the similarities between the two ideological movements of the 1960s. Both contained contradictory mixes of elitism and populism, libertarianism and communitarianism. Both had a certain contempt for suburban life and for the older generation. Both had romanticized agencies of change--whether Third World oppressed or bold entrepreneurs. Neither understood that what most peasants, workers and bourgeois want is less than heroic--as Samuel Gompers once tersely put it--they want "more." Both generational elites pushed the culture toward aspects of liberation; the generational mass, that "silent majority" of baby boomers plus the rest of America, struggled to incorporate what was most useful to their lives, and like Humpty Dumpty, tried--and still try--to put the pieces shattered by both New Left and New Right back together again.
The last sources of my curiosity are the Quayles. In Dan Quayle's much-discussed "Murphy Brown" comments before California's Commonwealth Club, he identified himself as a baby boomer. First off, he claimed generational credit for the civil rights accomplishments of the 1960s. It is important to distinguish between ex-liberal and neo-conservative figures like Bennett who supported civil rights and those who, in rallying for Goldwater, Wallace and the Ronald Reagan of the 1960s and 1970s, opposed all such progress. There's no evidence, for example, that Mr. Quayle, whose family newspaper were staunchly Jim Crow, stood with the former. In the speech, he continues:
He goes on to suggest that, whereas most middle-class boomers returned to more mainstream values as they developed family responsibilities and careers, the poor did not. Thus, to Quayle, poverty rests on the "poverty of values" spawned by the Sixties generation. 21
Marilyn Quayle sharpened this generational attack during the Republican Convention in Houston, declaring, "... not everyone demonstrated, dropped out, took drugs, joined in the sexual revolution or dodged the draft." Two points. First, Marilyn Quayle glops together behaviors which need to be disaggregated. Those who demonstrated, for one, didn't drop out; and opposing the draft doesn't seem to have any necessary linkage with drugs or sex. She is simply engaging in Sixties-bashing. And while there certainly are aspects of the Sixties subject to criticism, the dilemma of the New Right is that much of what is now, a la Dan Quayle's comments on civil rights, approaching mainstream acceptance, was the New Left agenda--equality before the law and inclusion of all historically aggrieved groups--African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, women, the disabled, seniors, gays; opposition to a senseless slaughter in Indochina; sensitivity to environmental and health issues. All that is presently assumed as normal, much that remains controversial, "politically correct," if you will, as it moves toward the common sense wisdom, comes from the New Left. And much that is problematical, particularly an erosion of community, a resistance to our essential interdependence, is shared by both of the Sixties movements, both of which celebrated versions of liberty at the expense of the whole. The New Left counted on either left-wing and/or pastoral-utopias to contain "doing your own thing." The New Right, always more the Party of Memory than the Party of Hope, relied on either a Reaganite, nostalgic past or simply walked away from the dilemma in its worship of the marketplace. Finally, the invisible hand exerts as little restraint on the antinomian spirit as did passing joints or nonmaterial incentives.
Finally, the Sixties generation of New Rightists has had considerable success in shaping the metaphors, and therefore, the politics of the past twenty-five years. David Keene, who went from New Right boomer to chair of the American Conservative Union, recalls:
As the Edsalls persuasively argue, the reactions to the Sixties rebellions generated the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s. And much of that revolution was carried and implemented by traditionalist boomers like Dick Cheney, Vietnam vets like Jim Webb, thirties-cum-sixties ideologues like Elliot Abrams and Bill Kristol, converts like David Stockman, Horowitz and Collier--but, I would suggest, most of all, by those like Peggy Noonan, Lee Atwater, and Bill Bennett. They were touched by much of the iconoclasm of the decade, its essentially rock'n'roll spirit, its fierce demand for liberty, it's sense of humor, its anti-establishment, anti-elite sensibility and, yes, its idealism.
Atwater, the least idealistic of the lot, saw TV as critical to the formation of his generation. He included the unprecedented educational opportunities rooted in middle-class lifestyles, the integration of women into both higher education and the work-force, greater leisure, and the Vietnam war. What Atwater calls "a new traditionalism," a new synthesis, rests on self-actualization, opportunity, a sense of quality, tolerance (the big tent indeed), a social conscience (which of course still indulges in Willie Horton ads!), gender equality, and an opposition to bigness. Sounding like the Port Huron Statement, Atwater concluded that possibly the greatest quality of boomer consciousness is a sense "of something missing in their lives." He didn't stay long with this theme of alienation, instead, characteristically, exploring how Republicans could unify both the libertarian baby boomers with the more populist, social issues conservatives. 23
In fact, that is what the Republican Party wasn't able to accomplish in the 1992 elections and is what it must address if it is to return to power in the future. The two Pats--Buchanan and Robertson--stand against the Sixties, in fact, against modernity. Atwater understood that there was a need to create a new synthesis. After all, the movements of the Sixties--New Left, hippie, feminist, green, gay--have made fundamental demands on all of our lives. That there has been resistance should hardly surprise us. If we've learned anything from human history it should be that we are characterologically conservative creatures, slow to change. And we've been asked to change--from our most essential and intimate values about men and women, whites and blacks, straights and gays, to all of the things which affect our everyday lives--recycling--Who honestly doesn't resent separating garbage? Who honestly doesn't sometimes curse seat-belts? Don't many of us resent the self-righteousness of the bans on smoking? It's this latter point which brings me to closure; the New Right's strengths have rested on the New Left's weaknesses--its self-righteousness, in fact, its elitism, its contempt for the lives of those who can't so easily bring behavior and values into line with Reason and Truth. This is the legitimate core of what has mostly been a demagogic attack on political correctness. In my own studies, this is the largest group within the Sixties generation, its silent majority if you will. They have been a contradictory group, resentful of radical challenges, attracted to both Nixon and then Reagan for patronizing their middle-class suburban virtues and aspirations. But they have been changed by the Sixties, sometimes unwillingly, more often at their own pace, in their own good time. They are more tolerant in matters of race, gender, and religion, and premarital sex; they are more environmentally conscious. But they are also tougher on crime, more in favor of the death penalty and their right to own weapons. And they are more suspicious of both government and business. In this sense, those who speak of a distinct generation--a Vietnam generation "touched with fire," or a "wounded generation," are expressing a truth. 24 But, at the same time, we should recognize the destructive aspects of what Russell Baker characterizes as "segregation by calendar," a division both empirically and ethically dubious. Our new baby-boom President had greater support, for example, from those both younger and older than the Sixties generation. And matters of social class, race and gender shape political behavior far more powerfully than generational identity.
My own view is that the long term impact of the movements of the 1960s rests on whether any activist group finds the way to help the mainstream--baby-boom and otherwise--resolve the questions and challenges raised during the 1960s--and still at the very heart of determining the very survival of our culture and our nation. And most of our labels--generational, ideological--seem to only get in our way as we continue to redefine and reinvent America.
3 See "The Silent Majority Baby Boomers: Class of 1966 in a South Jersey Town," Vietnam Generation 1:2 (Spring 1989): 140-150; and "The Silent Majority Baby Boomers," Socialist Review (Oct-Dec 1990): 37-56.
4 Daniel Yankelovich, New Rules (New York: Bantam Books) 1982; Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism (New York: WW Norton) 1978, esp. parts I & II; Herbert Gans, Middle American Individualism (New York: Free Press) 1988.
5 Alan Crawford, Thunder on the Right (New York: Pantheon) 1980: 18; Paul Gottfried and Thomas Fleming, The Conservative Movement (Boston: Twayne) 1990: 22. The best empirical study comparing New Left with New Right leaders is Margaret M. and Richard G. Braungart, "The Life-Course of Left-and Right-Wing Youth Activist Leaders from the 1960s," Political Psychology 11:2) 1990: 243-281. Also, James C. Roberts, The Conservative Decade (Westport, CT: Arlington House) 1990, which includes portraits of many conservative baby boomers.
7 Biographical material re James Webb: John H. Cushman, "James Webb's 'Fields of Fire,'" New York Times Magazine (28 Feb 1988) 38-31+; U.S. News and World Report (2 Feb 1987): 16; Newsweek (4 May 1987): Fields of Fire (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall) 1978; and, A Country Such as This (New York: Bantam) 1985.
8 Biographical material re Elliot Abrams: Eric Alterman, "Elliot Abrams: The Teflon Assistant Secretary," Washington Monthly (May 1987): 19-22; Myra MacPherson, Long Time Passing (New York: Signet) 1984: 142-146, 629-647.
10 Biographical material re Peggy Noonan: Paul Lyons, "Peggy Noonan: Conservative Baby Boomer," book review of What I Saw at the Revolution (New York: Random House, 1990), Socialist Review (Jan/Mar 1992): 121-127.
11 Biographical material re Lee Atwater: David Remnick, "Why is Lee Atwater So Happy?" Esquire (Dec 1986): 280-289; David Boaz, ed., Left, Right, and Baby Boom (Washington, DC: Cato Institute) 1986: 31-58.
13 Biographical material re Bill Bennett: Bruce Babbitt, "The Bully Pulpit: The Two Faces of Bill Bennett," Washington Monthly (Jul/Aug 1988): 45-48; Ezra Bowen, "Preacher, Teacher, Gadfly--A Profile of William J. Bennett," Time (18 Jul 1988): 58-60; Michael Massing, "The Two Bill Bennetts," New York Review of Books (1 Mar 1990): 29-33; John B. Judis, "Mister Ed," The New Republic (27 Apr 1987): 16-19; William J. Bennett, The De-Valuing of America (New York: Summit Books) 1992.
15 See Peter Collier & David Horowitz, ed., Second Thoughts (Lanham, MD: Madison Books UPA) 1989 and Deconstructing the Left (Lanham, MD: Madison Books UPA) 1991; Peter Collier, Destructive Generation (New York: Summit Books) 1990. See esp., John H. Bunzel, ed., Political Passages--Journeys of Change Through Two Decades, 1968-1988 (New York: Free Press) 1988 for the "God That Failed" memoirs of Collier, Horowitz, Radosh, as well as Martha Bayles, Jeffrey Herf, Julius Lester, among others.
24 See William G. Mayer, The Changing American MindHow and Why American Public Opinion Changed Between 1960 and 1988 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press) 1992 for generational and non-generational shifts in public opinion since the 1960s, esp. ch. 6 and 11; on baby boomers, see John Wheelers Touched With Fire: The Future of the Vietnam Generation (New York: Avon Books) 1985; A.D. Horne, ed., The Wounded Generation (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall) 1981.
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