2008 & 1964

From Mark Grief at Dissent:

Nineteen sixty-four represents a date when identity was still racial and integrationist—before the violent turns of the late 1960s and the 1972 McGovern vision of an “ethnic” and pluralistic Democratic Party, which has seemed to many a source of its weakness at different points in the decades since. Nineteen sixty-four means the 1960s without Vietnam and division. It means a politics still oriented toward progress (judged economically), toward the coming Great Society, and not toward liberation (something Obama has been willing to soft-pedal with his strategic dismissal of full gay marriage). And 1964, to confront the weirdest but most visceral dimension of this fantasy, would have been the year of Kennedy’s re-election, had he not been killed; as if Obama were really Kennedy returned, but racially colored in by the civil rights movement JFK did not do quite enough to advance, and as if Michelle were Jacqueline, and the two little daughters were John-John and Caroline, moving into the White House.  “We have,” this story seems to suggest, “another chance.”

We really don’t. There are all sorts of analogies to history floating around at the present moment.  One that I will confess attracts me is the 1932 analogy, in which a massive economic collapse is the only thing that allows the U.S. government to break through disastrous laissez-faire and create essential forms of social insurance for which generations of Americans will be grateful, ever after—indeed, which they won’t be able to imagine life without. But these analogies make the task of this moment look easier than it is. There is an obligation, with a Democrat in the White House and Democratic majorities in the Congress, to figure out what we on the left should want, right now.  An underlying imagination of 1964 or 1932 would suggest that we want the past back—without acknowledging the fundamental shifts made by modern conservatism in American thought, and without acknowledging that liberation is still the rogue element whose value and consequences the left can’t quite get straight.

It’s all right here

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