by Jeremy Young | 11/19/2007 09:25:00 PM
Chris Bowers has a great takedown of Harvard history professor and Hillary supporter Sean Wilentz. (I have a lot of respect for Wilentz, so that's more a compliment to Bowers than anything else.) It's an interesting argument, because Bowers, who has most of a doctoral degree in English and several years of political activism and consulting under his belt, is completely bypassing the conventional argument over whether liberals' failures or conservatives' successes are responsible for the conservative ascendency of the late 1960's. Bowers:

The problem I have with this is that there has been no broad, grand left- vs. right ideological struggle taking place within American elections for the past forty years. Democrats didn't start losing because they forgot who they were. They didn't start winning again because they moved to the center, better mobilized the base, had better candidates, or anything along those lines. None of that really happened. Instead, what did happen is that after the conservative movement consolidated American conservatives, especially white southerners, into the Republican fold, thereby giving Republicans national political dominance. From that point, a long-term conservative / Republican identity campaign targeting the fastest growing demographic groups in America with chauvinist messages, specifically Latinos (mainly on immigration and the English language in public life), Asians (mainly on immigration and the many overtly anti-Asian constructs of conservative foreign policy), white-non-Christians (mainly on trying to institutionalize a specific form of Christianity within every aspect of public life) and the LGBT community (mainly by overtly hating them), pushed those demographic groups into, or further into, the Democratic camp. This had virtually nothing to do with the Democratic Party moving to the left or the right. It is, instead, the beautifully ironic comeuppance to conservatives who built their political power by capitalizing on the, primarily white and southern, post-civil rights era backlash.

This is a fascinating argument because Bowers is essentially saying that the liberal failure of the 1960's was a failure of tactics, not of strategy. The whole Republican ascendancy can be traced to Republican tactical maneuvers designed to outflank Democrats in the South. If so, this turns today's historical argument about the 1960's on its head.

Not knowing much of anything about the '60's (though I've read Allen Matusow's The Unraveling of America), I don't really know what to make of Bowers' argument. Any thoughts?



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Blogger Lisa Pease on 11/21/2007 6:28 PM:

The left lost the sixties because all their leaders were assassinated, one after the other. President John F. Kennedy, one of the few true liberals to have served as president. Malcolm X, a leftist radical who was slowly coming to realize that Martin Luther King's nonviolent resistance was more effective in terms of protest than calls for armed insurrection. Then Martin himself was cut down, followed soon after by Robert Kennedy.

Had the right faced such a loss of leadership, we'd be in a very different reality right now. But the left got the message - propose peace, fairness, and equality, and you can literally lose your life. How could others not take that to heart?

I think that is the real reason we've seen the rise of the right in this country. No one else wanted to stick their head up too high on the left lest they become the next target.

But that's also why I think studying the history of those assassinations is so important. If the real players are identified and prosecuted, even posthumously, that's a great deterrant to others who might be tempted to use assassination as a means to an end.


Blogger Jeremy Young on 11/28/2007 2:42 PM:

And that's another fascinating argument. I think it borrows a bit too much from the Great Man theory -- a strong movement would be able to function without its strongest leaders -- but it's a fascinating point, and thank you.