To start this post, let’s play a quick
version of our Time Flies game.
I want to go back to this picture of
Jerry Ford, Richard Nixon, and their brethren in the mid-1960s
Marching and Chowder Society.
This was a group of mainly Midwestern,
Main Street Republicans whose first fight was against a guaranteed
bonus for veterans. They were, at their core, nostalgic for a
simpler, better time, the early 1920s of Warren G. Harding and his
“Return to Normalcy.” There were no big bonuses after World War
I. Why did World War II vets deserve better?
In 1965, when this picture was taken,
the time they were nostalgic for, the time of their childhoods, was
nearly 45 years in the past. Ford himself turned 52 that year. So did Nixon.
We think of the Kennedy time the way
Ford thought of Harding’s time, as moderate, as innocent, but mainly
as certain. The political myths and values of both eras were
well-entrenched, easy to believe in. They were nearly a generation
old. They were at their apogee. Yet they were both headed toward
excess, toward crisis, mainly because of that certainty.
The certainties Ford held so dear were
to become the empty-suit government of Calvin Coolidge, and the
Babbitt era of laissez faire that made the Depression so deep. The
certainties of the Kennedy era were about to become the chaos of the
late 1960s that made Nixon necessary. One was an excess of passivity,
the other an excess of zeal, but both were, in the end, excesses,
held to in times where flexibility was necessary.
Perhaps, in the middle of this century,
middle-aged men and women will feel the same nostalgia for those
months right after 9/11 that we have now for the Kennedy era, and
that Ford held for Harding’s time. At its core, I think jump-starting
this nostalgia was what the authors of the 9/11 GOP-udrama
were trying for. It may seem impossible now for Bush to be turned
into a hero, even Bush on the pile of rubble with a bullhorn, but the
hope of these men is that time will be as kind to him as it was to
Harding and Kennedy (although I doubt it, because Bush also stands in
for Hoover and Johnson, the fall as well as the rise).
The next era in our politics, however,
does start with a nostalgia for that Kennedy era, just as the start
of the Nixon era began with a nostalgia for Harding’s time. This is a
natural product of nostalgia, and of the age at which we are, the age
Ford was at in 1966, looking back at time flying, forward into the
abyss. There was good in those times, before it all went pear-shaped
in contradictory demands (more guns, more butter, more rights, more
sound) that society could not meet.
The challenge for Democratic candidates
this year, as it was for Republicans a generation ago, is to
concentrate voter attention on the muscular liberalism of 45 years
ago, to take their mind off the excess which followed, and the long
era of political exile following that. Muscular liberalism needs to
build a new base on the good of that time, on the moderate Civil
Rights era, on the time of Mercury and Gemini, on the suburban peace,
then let the Netroots lead us into a new era of Open Source Politics.
That, I feel, is just what is
happening. The leaders of this time and most of the winners of this
year will be transitional figures. The open source belief system
which will replace Nixonism is still gestating, here, in this medium,
and its troops are mainly flexing their muscles stage left.
The time for big debates and bold
proposals is coming. But it is not here now.
For now, concentrate on winning. Just