Some may wonder how I can still be a Democrat even though I remain opposed to many Obama policies (mostly his foreign policies), and even though I scoff at the liberal-ish pundits now offering apologies/rationalizations for their former support of Dubya's war. A comment here
sums up my feelings...
At least the Democrats have the decency to apologize! When will a Republican apologize for being catastrophically, unforgivably wrong?
To me, an admission of fault beats pigheaded arrogance every day of the week.
You may feel differently. I doubt that relatives of those killed in the "shock and awe" attacks are much impressed by any American's show of contrition.
The main article at the other end of that link is one of those everyone's-talking-about-it
pieces, from Ross Douthat of the NYT. I find his main contention laughable. He speaks of the collapse of Dubya's second term agenda (and by "agenda," he mostly refers to Bush's stabs at Social Security privatization):
This collapse, and the Republican Party’s failure to recover from it, enabled the Democrats to not only seize the center but push it leftward, and advance far bolder proposals than either Al Gore or John Kerry had dared to offer.
Then why is Obama poised to give in on Social Security reform? Why are all Democrats grudgingly coming to accept chained CPI, something they never would have tolerated while Bush was president? Why, for that matter, are Dems tolerating a foreign policy which continues the Dubya approach, minus the more costly excesses of neo-con adventurism?
Douthat's general thesis is that the failure of the Iraq war laid the foundation for a new era of social liberalism. IEDs in Baghdad gave us gay marriage.
As The American Conservative’s Dan McCarthy noted in a shrewd essay, the Vietnam War helped entrench a narrative in which liberal social movements were associated with defeat in Indochina — and this association didn’t have to be perfectly fair to be politically and culturally potent.
In a similar way, even though Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney weren’t culture warriors or evangelical Christians, in the popular imagination their legacy of incompetence has become a reason to reject social conservatism as well. Just as the post-Vietnam Democrats came to be regarded as incompetent, wimpy and dangerously radical all at once, since 2004 the Bush administration’s blunders — the missing W.M.D., the botched occupation — have been woven into a larger story about Youth and Science and Reason and Diversity triumphing over Old White Male Faith-Based Cluelessness.
I don't buy this. For the most part, social movements have followed their own stop-start, back-forth trajectory over the past century-or-so. Throughout the 1970s, Vietnam tainted conservatism
, not liberalism. For many years afterward, most Americans told pollsters that the war was a tragic mistake. Even Reagan did not dare to bring up the topic (much).
Most readers of this blog will probably agree with my contention that, over the past thirty-odd years, the primary obstacle to social progress has been fundamentalist Christianity. Was the rise of fundamentalism in America related to the Vietnam War?
A damned difficult question, that...!
Although many factors contributed to that rise, I'm inclined to point, first and foremost, to the failure of the counterculture of the 1960s -- a counterculture which was, to a great degree, a byproduct of the anti-war movement. The Vietnam debacle taught us that balding, greying white guys didn't have the answers that they pretended to have. But as the hippie era gave way to the tawdry disco-and-cocaine scene, we learned that the kids
didn't have any answers either. We learned that the new generation was just as screwed up as the previous one. Maybe moreso.
Thus, many younger Americans turned to reactionary Jesusism -- to virginity pledges and Promise Keepers and DOMA and all of that. But many others continued to press for change.
So the story of social change in America is hardly a simple one. As I said: It's a stop/start, back/forth thing. Has been that way for a good long while.
Re-reading the above, I want to add to my point about America's collective memory of the Vietnam era. We can use Jane Fonda, and what she symbolizes, as an example.
As many now forget, lots of veterans supported Fonda after her trip to Hanoi. Many soldiers and former soldiers didn't hate her
-- they hated Nixon and LBJ and McNamara and Westmoreland. They hated what was then called The Establishment. They did not
hate Barbarella -- hell, they had her poster on their walls. (I recall that poster very well!)
Fonda continued to be popular, albeit controversial, throughout the 1970s. A growing number of reactionaries screeched and yowled whenever her name was mentioned, but the screechers and yowlers were never so numerous as to injure her career. Her movies did well: Coming Home
, 9 to 5
, On Golden Pond
, The China Syndrome
Reactionary Fonda-hate didn't become nigh-universal until 1990 or so. That's when she became unbankable. Everyone in the country suddenly decided that she was That Treasonous Woman We All Must Despise.
Oddly enough, at the same time, Donald Sutherland experienced a career renaissance. He was frequently cast in big movies as the Wise Old Bird. The entire country elected to forget that Sutherland had accompanied Fonda on that trip to Hanoi, and that he said and did pretty much the same things. If anything, his youthful anti-war activism had been more aggressive.
Perhaps this story tells us something about our changing attitudes toward the Vietnam War. Or perhaps it tells us something about our attitudes toward women.