Democratic Underground

Why do Republicans Trash the 1960's?
July 30, 2001
by Michael S. Reilly

As an amateur historian I've always been intrigued by the 1960's and the people who represented this decade. I wasn't alive back then but have a well-established appreciation for the intellectual works, causes, music, figures and ideas of the era. While romanticized by some, this period has also been slandered by others; namely, the Republican Party. Given that the most well-renowned themes of the 1960's were peace and love; "live and let live;" smiling on one's brother and so forth, one might find it difficult to understand how such ideals could come under fire. But the Republicans are admittedly quite adept at finding ways to condemn concepts such as compassion, tolerance and understanding under the guise of promoting morals and decency.

It goes without saying that the GOP has no shortage of targets to rail against and assign blame to for all of society's ills, but members of the leftist movements of the 1960's are particularly despised. The lack of "personal responsibility" that allegedly trademarked the era is a common complaint from conservatives. According to Republican dogma, great damage to our society was caused by "if it feels good, do it" dirty hippie lowlives with no work ethic, whose insidious influence perpetuated a decline in marriage and a rise in promiscuity/unwanted pregnancy, drug use, and anti-American sentiment that undermined our values and caused us to lose the war in Vietnam. Various icons of the era such as Charles Manson and Ira Einhorn who "went bad" are held up by the right wing as examples of the supposed poisonous nature of this movement. In short, Republicans have attempted for decades to convince people that the gentle "free love" mindset of the 1960's was a failed, immoral disaster.

As far as causing damage to our society goes, I think the disgusting abuses of power and public disillusionment that occurred during the Nixon years as well as the massive unemployment, homelessness and deficits spawned by the Reagan administration caused much more harm to America than kids toking up in a VW bus, chanting mantras and "doing their own thing." Though they'll never admit it, I'm sure that Republicans secretly agree, which explains their constant need to point fingers in all other directions to turn the spotlight away from their sins. Make no mistake, the lectures of Republican arbiters of morality who rail against hippies are based purely on a self-serving agenda, and not due to any integrity or ethical standards. Let's tackle the issues to examine the actual reasons for the never-ending quest by the right wing to discredit and condemn the hippies of the 1960's.

1. "Personal Responsibility."

This is a favorite catch phrase of the Republicans and like any mindless advertising slogan it means absolutely nothing. This is a party that cannot boast of a single member - up to and including their figurehead president - who has ever taken personal responsibility for anything in their lives. Republicans who commit adultery or father children out of wedlock are routinely ignored by their own party amidst their fervor to point fingers at Democrats for the same thing. Republicans who commit crimes are continually excused or protected amidst a smear campaign against those who exposed them (the phrase "youthful indiscretion" is a favorite so long as it applies to wealthy white conservatives) as meanwhile they attempt to dredge up whatever dirt they can on Democrats.

Even mistakes made in the course of Republican leadership, such as bad policy decisions or economic plans, are inevitably laid at the doorstep of any Democrats they can find like an unwanted baby dumped on a church stoop. This last effort has resulted in the infamous Republican claim that the deficits of the 1980's were all the fault of the Democratic-controlled Congress but the economic boom of the 1990's was thanks to President Reagan's magical influence. If you believe that then you must be sitting on a pocket full of wooden nickels.

"Personal Responsibility" is merely a concept that nonconservatives must adhere to; conservatives themselves appear to be universally exempt from such an inconvenient requirement. Therefore, this hypocritical party has no business even mentioning the phrase "personal responsibility" (nor any other that involves morality), for it will earn the ridicule it deserves.

2. "Dirty lazy potsmoking hippies having sex"

According to the Republicans, the love generation of the 1960's were smelly slobs who engaged in non-stop "free love" orgies in between massive bong hits and acid trips. Laziness, drug use and promiscuity are some common criticisms from the conservatives (I won't even dignify the stereotype of "dirty" by addressing it). Accusing past hippies of having no work ethic (tell that to the ones who worked on communal farms from sunrise to sunset!) doesn't exactly transform clean-cut conservatives into icons of industrious dedication. George W. Bush, for instance, is not only famous for but proud of his brief workday and afternoon naps (not to mention his paucity of scholastic achievement) and yet he has somehow escaped criticism from members of his party. Furthermore, when I think of hard workers I envision the people who scrub floors, flip burgers, and ring up groceries for minimum wage, working double shifts to put food on the table for their kids. Yet strangely enough Republicans never seem interested in rewarding their work ethic with an increase in the minimum wage, choosing instead to issue tearful (yet thoroughly-refuted) hand-wringing predictions that any such increases will harm the economy.

As far as drug use goes, certainly the use of marijuana, LSD, and similar substances is illegal, and while I don't condone breaking the law I also think people will make up their own minds regarding what to do with their bodies. Republicans cannot take the high road here because their attitude, as evinced by their fawning protection of Jenna Bush during her underage drinking debacle earlier this year, is that "stupid laws can and should be broken" - even laws fomented by members of their own political party, apparently. We must thank the Republicans for leading by example here because based on their own philosophy they cannot condemn anyone for illegal drug use. Certainly those who perform it disagree with the laws involved and the conservatives have indicated that this all that is required to get the go-ahead to break the law. As for morality, there is no morality involved with imbibing or inhaling substances; it is a biological activity performed for purposes of intoxication, nothing more. Whether you drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, gulp tequila or shoot heroin, you're a drug user any way you slice it and it's all the same as far as the chemical aspects of these biological processes work.

So we're down to promiscuity, which is not restricted by legislation (as long as money is not exchanged). It's a subject one can only interpret and decide upon for themselves. I choose not to engage in promiscuous behavior because that is what's right for me, and the realm of my decision-making capabilities extends solely to myself. I believe other people can make up their own minds without needing me to instruct them. I do hope those who decide to be promiscuous protect themselves and their partners and have as much education as possible concerning these matters. That is as far as my involvement in the matter should go. That's what constitutes freedom; the ability to determine the course of your own life so long as you do not harm or infringe upon the rights of other people. What you do with your body or another consenting adult is your business. Now, Republicans are fond of freedom when it comes to owning guns, being able to discriminate or pollute, not having to pay taxes and pushing their religion into political affairs. But when it comes to people making personal decisions that conservatives disapprove of, suddenly they want to mind everyone else's business. Their derision against tree huggers, vegetarians, nonconformists, and other groups they find objectionable shows that a "live and let live" philosophy is anathemic to conservatism - and so is actual freedom. For all their talk about "individualism" they certainly are against those individuals who don't resemble them or share their values.

The fact remains that hippies made their own choices concerning their lifestyles, based on the freedom asserted in the Declaration of Independence - "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Granted, consequences of one's behavior can and should be expected no matter what the scenario, whether lost brain cells, unwanted pregnancies or venereal disease. That is why truthful education concerning drugs and sexuality as well as proper use of birth control and other safeguards are important. The Republican strategy of propaganda and scare tactics has proven unsuccessful and most people understand that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, and having premarital sex (or cohabitating, another favorite target of the GOP) does not lead to prostitution or welfare dependency.

As for the Republican gripes about the so-called deterioration of the institution of marriage thanks to the liberals of the 1960's, this is baseless nonsense. According to the Department of Health and Human Services the rate of marriages was actually higher between 1960 and 1970 than it was between 1980 and 1990 during "Reagan's America."

3. Charles Manson/Ira Einhorn

Republicans point to these individuals as proof that hippies were all murderous thugs with no regard for life. In actuality, most hippies preached nonviolence and tolerance while a few bad apples got all the publicity. Furthermore, whereas Ira Einhorn was admittedly a part of leftist infrastructure who failed to live up to his self-promoted ideals, Charles Manson was no hippie; rather he was an amoral opportunist who took advantage of the culture of the times to brainwash followers into accepting his intolerant philosophy of anarchistic mayhem. To decry an entire movement based on the actions of one negative individual would be sophistic and Republicans certainly object when Timothy McVeigh or John Salvi is described as their posterboy.

4. The Vietnam War

At last we have come to the Big Kahuna; one of the primary reasons the hippies of the 1960's have had such scorn heaped upon them by conservatives. Vietnam has always been a cherished cause for the right-wing and even 30 years after the end of the war they cannot bring themselves to admit what the rest of society knows: it was a colossal, wasteful mistake. Despite the fact that former U.S. Secretary of State Robert MacNamara, who was partially responsible for the escalation and promotion of this war, publicly recanted his beliefs a few years ago the Republicans still insist on clinging to this rather grimy teddy bear. Part of the reason is due to their continued use of the communist specter in promoting an "us versus them" mentality to feed off of. The remainder of their motivation is based on an inherently immature inability to admit wrongdoing or mistake. In the conservative view this military endeavor was a just war to fight the evil communists, and those who used their First Amendment right of free speech to object to it were somehow traitors. This tenet requires conservatives to discredit the other side by any means necessary, so they can continue to fantasize and rewrite history to justify U.S. presence in Vietnam. Like Fonzie's hilarious inability to utter the word "liver," the expression "I was wrong" is quite difficult to extract from the mouth of a conservative.

This is predictable yet somewhat perplexing given the fact hippies of that era and conservatives of our day have one thing in common: both criticized the government as untrustworthy and corrupt and sought to educate people that our leaders are not always beyond reproach. One might think modern day right-wingers would appreciate this shared sentiment at the very least, but the difference is the government in question back then was Republican-controlled and it was doing something the Republicans approved of. Certainly the hippies were proven correct by the Watergate scandal, which conservatives are still fuming over since it brought down a Republican President, and that was part of the rationale for their never-ending attempts to smear President Clinton. As always, their beliefs and ethics are entirely conditional, depending on the political affiliation of those involved. This is exemplified by the miraculous transformation of conservatives into flower-waving peaceniks when Clinton sent troops into Bosnia - an act that resulted in not a single U.S. casualty, I might add.

When discussing Vietnam it's important to take a look at those who continue to rabidly promote the war, for you will almost inevitably find a man (or woman) who did not serve in it. From Rush Limbaugh to Pat Buchanan to Dan Quayle to Tom Delay to George W. Bush, the chickenhawks all scavenged various excuses to stay home because they just couldn't find the time to commit to this cause (other than empty-headed rhetoric years later), although sending others to fight was perfectly acceptable. Now take a look at those who actually served, such as Al Gore and John Kerry and chances are you will see a person who has doubts about the justification for this conflict, who lost friends over there, and who is opposed to such terrible fiascos occurring again in the future. In short, the right wing dismisses the views of the veterans of this war in favor of their own feverish propaganda.

5. The changing of the status quo

We may conclude with the final - and perhaps most significant - reason right-wingers are still so upset about the 1960's. They have freely admitted that life under Ike during the 1950's is their ideal vision for America, and it's not hard to see why. Women wore starched dresses, baked cookies, kept quiet when their husbands were speaking and accepted beatings when delivered. Blacks carried baggage, did lawn work, and kept to their own kind. Gays stayed way in the back of the closet; those who wandered out were castigated and vilified without fear of reprisal. Similarly, most people went to church and faithfully accepted what they were told. The free thinking that characterized the 1960's, which led minorites to clamor for equality, kids to reject conformity, and people to question authority, was nowhere in sight. The social consciousness that characterized this era (and which contributed vastly to the modern-day Democratic Party) that promoted respect for the environment, aid to oppressed people at home and abroad, and activism against big business hasn't gone over well with the Republican Party. They have fought a losing battle for almost forty years to keep the women in the kitchen and the blacks at the back of the bus. That's the scope of what they know, for conservative views have been so firmly entrenched for the past several decades that they just can't seem to accept that other perspectives have moved forward. More significantly, they have fought tooth and nail to pretend that opponents of Republican-promoted ideals have not been vindicated over the years.

In order to hide the fact they have no meaningful answers to issues both past and present, conservatives rely on smearing the opposition in order to pretend their views continue to offer validity. They complain quite often that liberals want to limit freedom, tell people how to think (this last is a frequent gripe when conservatives are told they cannot target some group they loathe), or tear apart the fabric of society. Yet it is the right-wing that has performed all three based on the core of their belief structure. There must always be an enemy in the right-wing mindset (as evinced by their rather sloppy love affair with firearms), whether it be communists, hippies, liberals, or some other group; it does not matter if "they" are foreigners 5000 miles away or fellow Americans living next door.

Try as they might, conservatives will never be able to rewrite or eradicate the lessons of the 1960's. As Plato's Cave demonstrated, knowledge and understanding moves us in a progressive direction, rather than regressive. What is collectively understood cannot be unlearned; society continues to move forward regardless of the evolutionary recidivism on the part of a vociferous, embittered few.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have to put on my sandals, find my tie-dyed shirt, grab my Dead tapes, and hop on the next flight to San Francisco for a free concert in Golden Gate Park.

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