Practically since this blog evolved, I have been struck by similarities between our own time and the crisis of my youth. As was true then, a new political order is struggling to make itself heard.
Many in Washington saw the 1968 election of Richard Nixon as conservatism's ultimate triumph. Conservatives, of course, didn't think so. They appreciated the rhetoric Spiro Agnew fed them, but they wanted more. They wanted a complete transformation of society.
That they achieved this transformation is manifestly clear. In the last decade the political assumptions all ran one way, toward the right. The failure of those assumptions to deal with the problems of that decade — Islam, Katrina, the mortgage mess — is what set the present era into motion.
President Barack Obama is, in my view, the new Nixon. Nixon's the One was a 1968 slogan, meaning this is the man who will finally break conservatism's losing streak. Oprah Winfrey resurrected that for this President. Conservatives tried to claim it was pure grandiosity, but it was, in fact, merely the call from a generation of outsiders to finally be inside.
But getting inside the tent doesn't put you behind the political wheel. In our system, it just doesn't. The Senate turns over slowly, the Justice Department glacially, and a generation's assumptions can't be overthrown overnight. So liberals today are as disappointed with Obama as conservatives were back then with Nixon.
Meanwhile, the old assumptions die hard. They double down on themselves. The nattering classes still believe that the balance of power remains what it was.
They go about selecting someone to overthrow "the one" with great confidence. It's amazing how, at Seeking Alpha, the site where I now work, they will cackle about their coming triumphs.
Whoever they select, they're certain, will rise to inevitable triumph. But primogeniture reigns. The assumption is that the candidate whose "turn" it is will win, both the nomination and the later election. The idea that they could be wrong never occurs.
How could anyone vote to re-elect Tricky Dick?
So who's Edmund Muskie now?
Muskie had been Hubert Humphrey's Vice Presidential candidate. He was a respected Senator, a Democrat in what was then thought to be a Republican state. And a good, card-carrying liberal at a time when such a word was worn proudly.
Like Muskie, of course, Mitt Romney wears a conservative label with some pride. He lays claim to having governed a Democratic state, as Muskie ran in a Republican one. And it's definitely his "turn" — with McCain now elderly, and his VP unwilling to stake a claim, the nomination has "fallen" to the second-place winner last time.
It's amusing that Romney's own father was the front-runner in the middle of 1967, before George Romney tried to go against the Vietnam war, claiming to have been "brainwashed" by LBJ's generals. At the time it was thought the word "brainwash" was Romney Sr.'s apostasy. In fact it was going against the Cold War.
Mitt also has his apostasy. His health care program in Massachusetts became the model for what passed the U.S. Congress last year, and conservatives will neither forgive nor forget. But is that so different from Muskie himself, who was a hawk before he was a dove, who surrounded himself with Cold War-era men, who was in rhetoric and demeanor as distant as one could be from the hippies and college professors Nixon men so loved to hate?
Yes, the movement did in Muskie. The Manchester Union-Leader, the mini-Murdoch of its time, crafted a dirty trick that did him in.
Will something like that do in Mitt Romney? Is there a viable alternative to him, a McGovern-in-waiting? Regular readers here may know I gave Michelle Bachmann that title during the summer, as the best expression of the movement, but even the establishment now knows that the Anyone But Romney movement is, if anything, far more powerful within the GOP than the Romney movement. And that enthusiasm for Romney is tepid at best, as enthusiasm for Muskie was a generation ago.