Think of this as Volume 11, Number 24 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
Thanks in part to best-sellers like Rick Perlstein's Nixonland, and in part to their own self-referential nature, TeeVee blowhards are falling all over one another to compare this year with 1968, the year of the last American crisis.
I started playing around with this two years ago as The 1966 Game, and while it's fun it's really very bad historical analysis. It does nothing but look backward. It teaches us nothing about what's coming.
While it's true we're in a crisis period, the nature of today's crisis is quite different from that of 40 years ago. The 1960s were a social crisis, in which the previous era's foreign policy assumptions were validated and became the new political divide.
The current crisis is economic. Those old assumptions have fallen apart. They led us into Iraq. We the People no longer believe them. All this constant harping on 1968 does is justify those assumptions anew, trying to make John McCain the New Nixon, Barack Obama the late Bobby Kennedy.
It's stupid. It's brain dead.
Every generational crisis in American history has been different. Every emerging Thesis has been different. But there is one such crisis to which valid analogies can be made.
The 1896 Crisis was the only one in which the majority party going in was the majority party coming out (maybe that will get the bloviators interested). But more important it was about economic organization and America's place in the world.
The 1890s created America as a single national market, with national brands, an industrial organization, and an imperialistic sense of itself. At the heart of solving the crisis was the Spanish-American War of 1898, which not only gave us Teddy Roosevelt (the crisis' central figure) but also gave us our first true foreign possessions. We even fought a colonial war, in the Philippines, to keep that empire alive, and created Panama out of Columbia to extend that empire.
The current crisis is in some ways a mirror image of the 1890s. In others it is its polar opposite. The trends, thanks to technology (which also drove the 1890s) are leading us in a new direction:
- The Internet is the new railroad.
- Knowledge is the new resource.
- Sustainability is the new industry.
- Consensus is the new imperative.
Let's take a look at these trends, one at a time, and see what they portend: