Except for the Bellbottoms, That Is

As a kid growing up in the 1960′s and 70′s, I really believed that America was rapidly becoming a better place, and the future looked bright.  In first grade and kindergarten, I attended a school in a nearby “ghetto” neighborhood, where the “War on Poverty” lured privileged white kids like myself by offering gym classes, teachers five to a room, snacks, and excellent lunches.  I hated it, of course, since everybody else went to the neighborhood school a few blocks from my home and I was, well, sort of the opposite of “tough,” but nonetheless, I emerged reading years above my grade level, and I was astonished at the lack of individual attention given to both high and low achieving students in subsequent years.  Little did I know at the time, the reason I finally got to go to the neighborhood schools was because the program had been cut; I was just happy not to have to ride a bus every day.

As the Nixon Administration collapsed under its own criminality, and with it both the draft and the Vietnam war, I felt that the clouds that had haunted my childhood had been lifted, and even if the prospect of getting rid of my older brother that way necessarily dimmed, that was still a very good thing.  The Church Commission hearings, which exposed the police state tactics of the FBI and the government in general led to important checks on government power, and here in Oregon marijuana had even been decriminalized for possession of less than an ounce.  Our Republican (!) Governor had passed the first Bottle Bill as well as landmark land use laws that protected forest and farmland from the sprawling development of the era, and one Republican Senator, Mark Hatfield, had been a staunch peace advocate, while the other, Bob Packwood, was outspokenly pro-choice, before that was cool.  (Later we found out Packwood might have had personal reasons for this stance…)

Then, along came Reagan, the first horseman of the apocalypse that is today.  Almost as soon as he took office, he made registration with Selective Service a condition of federal higher education aid, a clear signal that more wars were in the offing, and after his wife was lambasted for her extravagance and shallowness, she showed her serious side by revamping (and vastly escalating) Nixon’s failed “War on Drugs.”   Taxes were cut drastically on the rich as the military budget ballooned, and red ink flowed from sea to shining sea, necessitating savage cuts in social programs, and tales of “Welfare Queens” nipped whatever vestigial social responsibility that still existed in the middle class in the bud.

Worst of all, though, what Reagan ushered in was what I call, with a nod to one of my favorite authors of the era, David Wise, “The Politics of Lying.”   With his sunny talk of Morning in America, Reagan was able to unmoor political discourse from any connection with reality; facts did become, as he put it “stupid things,” and any politician who dared tell the truth to the American people would henceforth be rendered some sort of subversive party-pooper, and would lose.  Like his successors, he was able to cobble together the conniving rich and the religious bigots into and uneasy but enduring majority, trashing the country in the process, but what the hell?  It worked.

The “successes” of George Bush, which were many if you look at it from his party’s perspective, made Reagan look like an ineffectual semi-hippie by comparison.  Where Reagan denounced torture, Bush gloried in it.  Where Reagan attempted to salvage his legacy by negotiating arms treaties with the Soviets, Bush ostentatiously backed out of them.  And where Reagan had peppered his staff with quite a few venal cronies who personally profited by their government “service,” Bush’s administration had nothing but, right on up to his Vice President.

Being a natural optimist, I thought that these serial disasters would, once and for all, discredit the right and its dissolute and authoritarian ways, but I’ve been proven wrong once again.  Not only has Obama embraced the worst of Bush’s policies on civil liberties, war, and government overreach, but his economic policies are just as bad if not worse than those of his predecessor.  A serious primary challenge from the left, which will probably do nothing more than put a fanatical teabagger in the White House in 2012, seems the only, admittedly unappealing, prospect at this point.  All these years after the 70′s, Republicans have managed, with considerable Democratic support, to make voting all but irrelevant; we now have a choice of more of the same vs. more of the same, no matter how bad.  Makes me want to put on bellbottoms.

13 Comments

  1. Annice says:

    I think we were all fooled that things were going to get better!
    The 70′s were great years, there was hope…then it all went down hill!

  2. michlib says:

    I’d just be a lot happier if instead of just blue collar workers ( and increasingly IT and engineers ), that doctors, lawyers and CEO’s were also forced into the global competition for low wage status.
    Imagine the money Goldman Sachs would save hiring lower cost country analysts, traders and upper management !! The money they could save would build our smartgrid and bullet trains. Then they could change their name from Goldman Sachs to ” Sacks of Gold, Man”.

  3. retzilian says:

    I’m not particularly sentimental about any of it, although the music of our teens (in the 70s) was the best, ever. I never liked Reagan, even when I couldn’t articulate exactly why. I was a student of political science at THE Ohio State University when the neo-cons were hatching all over college campuses and noticed early on that they had no consciences. There was something I intuited about them.

    The one big thing that really distinguishes the 70s from the present is the lack of jobs. People made tons of money in the 70s when we had manufacturing here in the rust belt. If mfg doesn’t come back, we really have no hope. None of the rest of it matters.

    The current political leadership is so short-sighted and the wealthy on Wall Street so stupid and selfish, they don’t even see how their policies are self-defeating. If there are no jobs, there is no demand for goods, etc.

    I read an interesting article yesterday in a medical provider site that talked about how to profit on the surge in Medicaid rolls. Seriously. Instead of creating jobs, creating demand for goods, creating goods, creating products for insurance that will serve the majority of uninsured, they are discussing how to profit on the poor. Swell.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Like the bank robber said, “That’s where the money is.” Poor people, only because there are now so many. All the union-busting and offshoring worked pretty well didn’t it? Even the banksters target the poor now, because that’s all they have left.

    • Annice says:

      Retzilian, I am from Michigan and in automotive! I had to take a job in Oregon to survive! I would love to go back home to my house there and enjoy life, not sure when the mfg is coming back…not unless we get rid of NAFTA and maybe bring back the tariff.

  4. The Heel says:

    Here a few encouraging words from a nice Republican:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eM1HlfVF4I4

  5. avelna says:

    I’m in the process of reading Matt Taibbi’s The Great Derangement and came across a quote which really encapsulates the whole Democratic modus operandi. In referring to the period after the 2006 midterm elections he writes: “It would be a period where the Democrats would prove absolutely that it is posssible in America to govern entirely on the appearance of principle–while changing absolutely nothing”. Of course it turns out to cover a much longer period and the change has been, for the most part, for the worse.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Remember how fast Clinton ran away from his own “stimulus” package, favoring instead “Rubinomics,” which rather unsurprisingly led him to tackle the deficit dragon (and subsequently lose congress), and then he continually morphed into a Republican? Sheesh.

  6. Hi, i think that i saw you visited my blog so i came to “return the favor”.I am trying to find things to improve my web site!I suppose its ok to use some of your ideas!!