Darn. I wrote a great response and then hit the wrong key and deleted it. I tend to write quickly and once I’ve done it, it is very hard to recreate the flow, the usages, the images, etc. It’s very frustrating and it can be avoided if I just learn to always compose in another format and then cut and paste to the blog.
So here goes again.
FDR was still president when I was born. I remember the kitchen table fist pounding that went on among the working class circle I was raised in. As I grew up, the divisions we see today were present on my h.s. campus. The Shadeggs went to my h.s. and other people who became leaders in the G.O.P. The issues then were race, the economy, foreign policy, social change, religion……. are you thinking what’s changed?
When I hit the university campus, the House Un-American Activities Committee was the target of the left. I joined in those protests in 1959. I started working in a John Birch Society bookstore and my employers allowed me to argue with the right wing customers. I learned a lot about the attitudes of the right there.
What happened was the sixties, or rather, the Sixties. What the sixties freed up was people’s ability to say things that would have got them labeled as notorious, trouble-makers, sluts, radicals, sick, queer, foreign, communist, etc. Given all the jokes about that now, it is probably impossible for younger persons to understand how many taboos existed in society. Divorce, suicide, cancer, homosexuality, alcoholism, mental retardation, sexual activity of any kind, ties to other countries…. I’m just thinking of all the things that popped up only to be shushed when I was a kid.
On the college campus, you had the battles between the Christ on Campus folks and the agnostics. I met a socialist here and there and thought they were nuts, but everybody recognized that only on campus were they safe. Guys wearing beards were sometimes beaten up – remember, this was the era of the Beatniks.
The Sixties allowed lots of things – harking back to the Flapper Era, the Twist came in, greatly modified from its Black origins but clearly a Black dance. During the 30s and 40s and 50s, Black music and dance had exerted a big influence all along but dancers were kept separate by race. School desegregation began to have some effect, which was depicted in the movie Hairspray. I often wonder what younger people think when they see that movie – was that just in Baltimore? Was that just those particular people?
Movements started in the Sixties that put out in front formerly taboo issues like homosexuality, racism, abortion and other women’s issues (so labeled b/c presumably men didn’t care what happened to women they got pregnant – that was her problem). I remember clearly around 1967 working as a social worker when the first book on child abuse came out – The Battered Child Syndrome. It had a huge impact. Special Education brought children with mental and physical disabilities out into the mainstream.
Conservatives reading this will claim I’ve been reading too much liberal propaganda, that the pre-Sixties era was one in which “everyone got along”. Sure they did, b/c they knew if they got out of line, the forces of society would crush them. A book like Payton Place or the Phillip Wylie and Vance Packard books would try to blow the lid off things but they were nothing like the impact of the Sixties. Hippies and war protesters is what is featured in the popular media – nothing p.o.’s me more than some sitcom where someone comes out wearing their idea of hippie garb and the audience cracks up. Hippies had an impact but they were not all that numerous. Lots of imitators, though. When I saw long hair and mutton chops appear among the working class, I knew the era was over (yes, my wife got me into mutton chops and bell bottoms, I’m ashamed to say).
Parts of the Sixties did not turn out well or just went away: open marriages, drugs, dropping out of college, starting a new Black or Chicano republic (an idea I still like), and so on. One of the accomplishments was bringing disucussion out into the open. Public health officials could talk about STDs. Schools could talk about mistakes America made in foreign affairs. Politicians could suggest looking at solutions other countries had tried. An American was defined in a much broader way.
Of course, all this had the way paved by the dislocations of the Depression, the bringing together of people in the WW II draft, and the economic boom of the fifties. What the Sixties bequeathed was sometimes smothered by the greed and hedonism of the seventies and eighties. By the nineties, the Holy Rollers of my youth had become the Evangelical Right of the GOP vote hunters. Reagan could kick off a campaign in Oxford, Mississippi to signal his support for White racism but he could not come right out and preach against Black rights like Lester Maddox could in the Sixties and still get elected governor.
Nevertheless, those underlying themes persist, as evidenced by Sarah Palin’s appeal to “real Americans”. God bless David Gergen for getting fed up with the pussy-footing around of his fellow panelists and saying, “Look, I am a Southern White man and I know what those code words mean!” When Tea Partiers “want their country back”, they are not referring to bank bailouts, as they claim; they are recalling either their childhood or a nostalgic version of it as seen on the Lawrence Welk Show. When I point out to people my age some of the realities of the 40s and 50s, they shy away from admitting how things were. They don’t deny it, they just would rather not think about it and wallow in the supposed security and comfort of those times.
While my own recollections can offer a lot, I still go to social science research to confirm what I know or correct misconceptions I have or a narrowness of vision I might be afflicted with. What I’ve expressed here are my views and memories. I have read a lot and could have put more in from those sources, but I preferred for this response to rely just on my own personal experiences. I can back up everything I said above with particular personal encounters and conversations I had in those days. I look forward to discussing this further with all of you reading this. What I tried to do is show how Obama’s time is not FDR;s time, yet the problems persist through time.