Remember Altamont? If you're of a certain age, you probably remember it as the day the 1960s died. The Hells Angels were hired to do security for the Altamont festival in California (what could go wrong) and the rest is history.
Altamont wasn't seen as a political event, but it was. Afterward, young people turned their backs on protest and began accepting the idea that maybe being stoned all the time was a little bit crazy. The tin soldiers and Nixon coming at Kent State were actually late to the party, which was already over.
Basically, the whole society turned inward. The 1970s became the “me” decade and, when political agitprop returned, it was coming from the right, starting with California's Prop. 8, and we were off to the races.
This last week was the right's Altamont. Between the death of Andrew Breitbart, the right's favorite agent provacateur, and Rush Limbaugh finally going too far, with conservatives still too slow to condemn him, I think the wind has blown out of this hurricane.
In the very near term, this is bad news for Rick Santorum and makes Mitt Romney the Republican nominee. Tomorrow Romney will win Ohio, maybe Tennessee, because Santorum's turning up the heat on social issues now looks asinine given Rushbo's flame-out. Conservatives are, one-by-one, going to remove themselves from the social war, turn inward, leaving the economic royalists to take the hit of 2012's results.
But it's the long-term impact that's going to be more profound in retrospect, and I know most reporters aren't allowed to look at it but there it is.
What's going to happen, from this point forward, is a gradual lowering of the temperature in our political discourse. It won't be obvious at first. There will be provocations on both sides, imagined provocations on the other side, and there will remain a media hell-bent on stoking the flames of hate for ratings.
What no one realizes is this has been coming on us for some time. The ratings for Rushbo and his ilk have been declining for years, and this latest was really just another attempt by him to gain some attention, to go “look at me.” While Breitbart did a Jim Morrison (I'd say more a Mama Cass) , poor Rushbo is left like Jerry Rubin after the hippies became yuppies. (On his podcast recently, comedian Marc Maron recalled going to see Rubin with some friends in the early 1980s only to find out he was shilling for some investment scam.)
To get through a crisis, a crisis President needs to ride their luck and trust that the other side will do itself in. Obama has done it Nixon's way but without Nixon's paranoia, born of having his first election, in 1960, stolen by the Kennedy family. I sometimes wonder whether President Gore would be repeating Nixon's mistake and going against the imperial Bush family right about now, but that's a history we'll never see.