The Discerning Texan
-- Edmund Burke
Monday, June 30, 2008
Obama's "Boys of Summer" (1968)
Obama’s Boys of SummerA Who’s Who of 1968 radicals supports the candidate.
Backing a major-party candidate for president would have been anathema to Michael Klonsky 40 summers ago, when the organization he led, Students for a Democratic Society, urged young people to spurn elections. “By ’68, our line was ‘Vote in the Streets,’” Klonsky told me last spring. “We thought we had to fight with Eugene McCarthy and those people.” In August 1968, protesters clashed with police outside the Democratic Party’s national convention in Chicago—but far from being political innocents who took to the streets to protest Vietnam War hawks’ capture of the Democratic presidential nomination, many of them never supported antiwar candidates McCarthy and Robert Kennedy. “Those of us who have been in the streets for the past five days didn’t give a flying fuck whether McCarthy would win or lose,” SDS declared in posters around Chicago, “and now that he’s lost, still don’t.” On the eve of the general election of that year—in which less than 1 percentage point would separate the popular-vote totals of Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey—Klonsky’s SDS bluntly proclaimed: “The elections don’t mean shit.”
Klonsky, whose disgust for mainstream politics led him to launch a new, Maoist Communist Party in the 1970s, today supports Barack Obama so enthusiastically that until recently he was blogging on the Illinois senator’s campaign website. And boycotting this November’s election, Klonsky maintains, would be a “tragic mistake.” He notes that Barack Obama isn’t Hubert Humphrey, 2008 isn’t 1968, and the strong movement he served back then is “relatively weak” now. “My own support for Obama is not a reflection of a radically changed attitude toward the Democratic Party,” Klonsky recently explained to me. “Rather, it’s a recognition that the Obama campaign has become a rallying point for young activists and offers hope for rebuilding the civil rights and antiwar coalitions that have potential to become a real critical force in society.”
Michael Klonsky is hardly the only ’68 radical supporting Obama this year. In 1968, when Mark Rudd organized the student strike that shut down Columbia University, the SDS chapter that he chaired ridiculed Kennedy and McCarthy as “McKennedy,” claimed that “neither peace candidate offers an alternative to the war policies of Lyndon Johnson,” and suggested “sabotage” as an alternative to voting. Rudd succeeded Klonsky as national SDS leader, presiding over the organization’s metamorphosis into Weatherman and performing “a liaison function” for the plot to bomb a Fort Dix soldiers’ dance that instead killed three Weathermen, including two of Rudd’s Columbia SDS colleagues. Today, Rudd renounces bombs, embraces ballots—and supports Obama. “Probably the biggest difference between Columbia SDS people in 1968 and in 2008 is forty years,” Rudd explained in an e-mail. “Most of us have lived with compromise our whole lives. As kids we were raving idealists who thought that ‘The elections don’t mean shit’ was a slogan that meant something to somebody. It didn’t.”
Then there’s Carl Davidson, who was one of SDS’s three elected national officers in 1968, when the organization first urged young people to refrain from voting. His disillusionment with traditional politics became so pronounced that, in the post-sixties hangover that followed, Davidson joined Klonsky in rejecting traditional politics for fringe Marxist movements. More recently, he helped organize the 2002 rally in which Obama first spoke out against the Iraq War and now serves as the webmaster of Progressives for Obama. “The last thing we need is a simple repeat of 1968, which saw Nixon and the new Right as an outcome, as well as the defeat of [Humphrey],” Davidson contends. “One thing I’ve learned. Social change is not made by elections, but it certainly proceeds through them, not by ignoring them or chasing the illusion of end runs around them.”
Former SDS president Tom Hayden is also in the Obama camp. Hayden organized the made-for-TV protest outside the 1968 Chicago convention. But the catharsis of throwing debris at the Chicago police, the purer-than-thou sanctimony that tolerated no distinction between Lyndon Johnson and Eugene McCarthy, and the exhilaration of “voting in the streets” instead of in election booths combined to ensure liberal defeats. Hayden’s orchestrated anarchy proved more damaging to Humphrey’s presidential aspirations than any dirty trick Nixon’s henchmen could have dreamed up. Klonsky remembers Hayden plotting to spread nails on a highway; another SDS leader recalls Hayden encouraging activists to firebomb police cars. If the Democrats couldn’t run a convention, many Americans wondered, how could they run the country? “Did the radicalism of Chicago elect Richard Nixon?” Hayden asked, clearly pained, in his 1988 memoir. “Having struggled with that question for twenty years, I find there is no ‘neat’ answer.”
Read the whole thing. Stunning--and yet the media's whitewash continues...