I would venture to guess that most of the Popdose audience wasn’t even born when the radicalism of the 1960s bubbled up — yet the shadow of the 1960s is showing signs that its legacy still has some life. I don’t aim to sum up the ’60s here in one post, but one of the things that I can’t seem to get out of my mind during this presidential campaign is the language used during the ’60s, and how certain groups that form the base of the Republican Party are locked into the tone of that language today. Simply put, the language of politically active lefties, anti-war groups, civil rights, and later women’s and gay rights was the language of non-negotiable demands.
The idea was effective in its simplicity: find an injustice that’s linked to an institution. In the case of many top-notch research universities, the link was government-funded research into chemical-biological weapons conducted at a university, and its link to the Vietnam War. Then mobilize a group around said injustice and storm the gates (or a university regent meeting) and present those who represented The System a list of non-negotiable demands that essentially said “cease and desist.” If the demands weren’t met, students would picket, sit in, or go on strike to disrupt the usual functions of the institution until the administration caved.
As you can imagine, for 18-22 year olds with their heads full of idealism, taking on The Suits who are at the forefront of injustice of the world is an intoxicating thing. As the movements grew in numbers, the language became more moralistic, the tone became more strident, and ideology sharpened into a hybrid of left-libertarianism, Marxist critique of capital, and race, class and gender identity. Sure, there are some aging new lefties who still cling to that political point of view – which at the time was quite innovative. However, political conservatives are now the ones who are riding the “steady state” of a ’60s brand of non-negotiable moralism – but they have adapted it to their own issues.
Consider the case of why political conservatives (and radicals) who vote for Republicans don’t really support John McCain. Reading conservative blogs and articles on the subject reveals that the radical right wing of the Republican Party is pissed at McCain because he doesn’t pass their ideological purity test. McCain, it seems, is too willing to compromise with “the other side” on many issues and won’t ram through demands with a “my way or the highway” tone. Which demands are non-negotiable for the radical wing of the Republican Party?
1. Make abortion illegal.
2. Stop all stem cell research.
3. Expel immigrants who are not here through the standard immigration process, and build a Berlin Wall-type of fence between Mexico and the U.S.
4. Nominate Supreme Court justices who are ideological clones of Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts.
5. Make tax cuts (mostly for the wealthy) permanent and deep.
6. Allocate the lion’s share of the federal budget to the military and ancillary groups who are connected to the military.
I’m sure there are other demands, but you get the idea. Just visit any number of right-wing bloggers, or even more notable right-wing commentators, and you’ll see these issues come up again and again. If a candidate who was talking the talk were in the running (one who was not a Mormon or seen as a fringe Libertarian), you would see a lot of activity in the Republican base. However, with Romney out of the race (but holding on to his delegates) it’s not clear how McCain (once he gets the formal nomination) will convince those in the Republican base that he’s a true believer who will not only talk the talk, but walk the walk as well. Rather, there’s a lot of talk about “sitting this election out.” With this defeatist attitude among the more active and vocal members of the Republican base, it makes me wonder if the legacy of the non-negotiable demands of the ’60s is coming to an end.