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A Generation of Disbelievers

All of us who lived through the 1960s remember the day that President Kennedy was killed. After that, none of us were ever the same. I was in the band room in my high school, where all of us were crying in disbelief. We made no music that day and or the days that followed. It marked the beginning of the end of our innocence.
    Before the assassination, I wanted to be Jackie Kennedy. I wore my hair like Jackie. I made pillbox hats exactly like Jackie’s. I sewed a double-breasted rose pink wool suit, just like one she wore the day JFK was killed. I was deeply affected when I saw Jackie’s gruesome blood-spattered pink suit on the day of the shooting.
    The Warren Commission did not satisfy a public that couldn’t make sense of the “single bullet theory,” which claimed that a bullet struck down our young president and miraculously kept on going, zigzagging through the car seat and striking Governor Connelly, as well. It was also unbelievable that Lee Harvey Oswald, a chronic loser, could take down a president who was so powerful and full of life. When Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby, a lowlife strip club operator who was raised in Chicago’s Maxwell Street neighborhood, we thought it was just too tidy—Ruby kills Oswald before he can talk. The Warren Commission’s explanation of the terrible tragedy just couldn’t be true. A few years later, Dr. Martin Luther King was killed. Shortly thereafter, Bobby Kennedy was shot. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it on the radio. I thought the announcer made a mistake. Not another Kennedy. It just couldn’t be true, we thought. In each of these senseless murders, the explanations by our leaders were unconvincing. It is against this background of disillusionment that many of us matured.
     In Tom Brokow’s new bestseller, BOOM!, he quotes Tom Hayden, “There’s a big ‘what if’ over the Sixties....Who knows what would have happened if King and Kennedy were alive?”
    Brokaw’s book is an easy read, with many short chapters about babyboomers, some famous, some not-so-famous. Among the famous babyboomers Brokaw interviews were his old friends and anti-war musicians James Taylor, Paul Simon, Joan Baez and Judy Collins, as well as political figures such as Gary Hart and George McGovern, whose politics echo what Lyndon Johnson told the nation in 1964 as he signed the 1964 civil rights bill, “We shall overcome.”
     On what Brokaw calls the “counterrevolution” side were Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney. In Boom!, Rove talked about the huge impressions George Wallace made on him. Rove remembered, “I thought [Wallace] was a gifted demagogue; he was a calculated bully who was attempting to play off people’s worst fears and prejudices. It was all a deliberate and calculated game.”
    In June 1971, Rove became the executive director of the College Republicans—a membership of “anti-hippies” on the opposite side of the long-haired, free-loving crowd. In Nixon’s reelection campaign of 1972, Rove worked with Donald Segretti, the “young California lawyer who was later convicted as a Watergate conspirator for his dirty tricks against the Democrats.”
    It was during these years that Rove fine-tuned the skills that later made him famous—or infamous—in the White House as “Bush’s Brain.” Rove has worked his magic for many politicians. It seems as though the lessons he learned from Wallace’s campaign, the tactic of fear, and Segretti’s dirty tricks culminated in his genius in promoting George Bush to the White House. “Through it all,” writes Brokaw, “he’s maintained a take-no-prisoners style to advance the deeply conservative beliefs he holds so dear.”
    Rove told Brokaw that the expansion of the welfare programs during the LBJ years were an example of how the Democrats lost their way: “It’s funny, you look back on 1968 and think everybody was against the [Vietnam] war—and two of the candidates were not [Nixon and Alabama governor George Wallace]. And they got nearly sixty percent of the vote.”
   Rove continued, “The Sixties are a sign of what elite opinion can mean. There was an animus toward the military in the Sixties that was palpable, a moral revulsion among the elites toward the war. Yet when  they got a candidate [George McGovern in 1972] who represented the essential nature of that, he won one state.”
     Rove said that he thinks “the culture of the left was as destructive to the Democrats as their position on the war,”—this from a guy who never served in the military.
     Rove and Cheney both successfully evaded serving in Vietnam. They were busy dropping out of a long list of schools. Cheney was remembered for his hard partying. He spent a weekend behind bars in 1963 after he was arrested a second time for driving while intoxicated. Cheney married his sweetheart Lynne in 1968, and they both ended up studying at the University of Wisconsin.
    I also was in graduate school in Madison from 1969 to 1971. The political atmosphere was tense and days were filled with on-going rallies with Vietnam War protesters. The National Guard and tear gas were a constant presence on campus. Classes were frequently cancelled.
    Cheney said he “basically supported the war.” Of course. After his many deferments, he was 26, married and no longer eligible for the draft. “It wasn’t a major problem in my eyes; the war wasn’t something that touched me personally, obviously,” Cheney told Brokaw.
    I find this to be incredible. Women weren’t drafted during the Vietnam War years, but my life was significantly impacted by that terrible war. I lost classmates. We all did, I thought. Vietnam was a senseless war, not unlike Bush’s unnecessary, cooked-up war in Iraq. This disconnect by Rove and Cheney from the horrors of war and the disasterous impact of the Vietnam War seem to explain their deaf ears to those who want to end the war in Iraq. Today, ignoring the voices of the uninsured, injured, poor and sick, the White House has served only corporate interests, like arms manufacturers, insurance, oil, banking, chemical and pharmaceutical cronies. These are today’s “elite,” not the liberal academics, anti-war and health care advocates.
     Says Brokaw, “Both parties recognize that 2008 is destined to be a year of realignment.” The election can’t come too soon.

Published: February 07, 2008
Issue: February 08 Money Issue


the editorial
Rarely does an editorial strike home as much as this one did. Thanks for articulating how our generation..or many of us... sees the world based on what happened in our formative years.
Malou Roth, Feb-12-2008