There must be something in the water over at the Daily Beast where posts sympathetic to RN (albeit unintended and/or inadvertent) have now appeared twice in three days.
First it was Chris Matthews’ admiring exposition of the role Edward Kennedy and a panoply of Kennedy partisans played in bringing down a President who had just been re-elected with the second biggest landslide in American history.
Today it’s Lee Siegel, one of the Beast’s most dependably provocative provocateurs, who provides the latest answer to the question “Is Obama the New Nixon?”.
Mr. Siegel urges a general untwisting of panties over the recent Tea Party rally on Pennsylvania Avenue. Despite the deepest fear (and fondest hope) of cable TV, the current wave of protest doesn’t represent a political apocalypse about to plunge the country into civil war.
But, he says, it does represent something very different and very important: the rise of a new counterculture. He writes:
The parallels between today’s right-wing radicals and radical tactics of the 1960s are striking. Sixties’ Dada theatrics—e.g. Allen Ginsberg leading people in an attempt to levitate the Pentagon (my favorite)—are echoed in the alarmist and conspiratorial theatrics of right-wing cable television. Then, too, just as the radical left was inspired by a few personalities—Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Mark Rudd et al.—today’s radical right is whipped up by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin et al.
And while the new counterculture’s racist images of Obama are sickening, they are similar in their emotional violence to the images of the old counterculture’s Representative Villain, Richard Nixon—caricatures which ran the gamut from violent to pornographic. Just as Nixon exemplified middle-class, middle-aged white, repressive stasis, so Obama exemplifies—for his haters—ceaseless, wearying, uprooting change.
Each man presented the perfect vexation to enraged opponents—Nixon a hurdle to change, Obama a wide-open door to an uncertain future.
And he ends with an appeal for some patience and some perspective:
In other words, everyone, calm down. What we are seeing is the good, old American Berserk in action. It’s just that, ever since the 1960s, we are not accustomed to seeing it come from the other side.
The central role the counterculture played in American history during the 1960s and ‘70s, and its impact on the Nixon presidency, has been pretty much overlooked and undervalued. But, in fact, the 1960s represented the apotheosis of the axiom: Let me write a country’s songs and I don’t care who writes its laws.
RN arrived in the White House just when the elements of a perfect storm had fallen into place: a debased elite that had lost confidence in itself and its values; a youth cohort that was economically empowered, intellectually flattered, hedonistically assaulted, and that felt personally threatened by the war and the draft; a mass media that had achieved almost total national saturation and exercised a virtual monopoly on public opinion; and a hard core of organized radicals —ranging from loopy anarchists to regimented terrorists— that knew how to intimidate the elite, exploit the media, and inspire and/or amuse the kids.
Today’s protesters are really very different from those of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
What the protesters of the ‘60s and ‘70s reflected and represented was a top-to-bottom crisis of the entire American —indeed, of Western— culture. What we’ve been dealing with so far in the summer of ’09 is still only a politically-triggered media-driven populist phenomenon.
The ranks of today’s protesters, while growing apace, is still specifically segmented. It is comprised of a lot of average citizens who are fed up with the extravagance and corruption of government and the arrogance of its representatives; of a smaller, and overlapping, group that is motivated by conservative media; and of a miniscule fringe of LaRouche wingnuts that the media consciously neglects to identify and unconscionably presents as representative.
But —whether he’s right or wrong about an emerging counterculture— it’s promising that Mr. Siegel is thinking and writing along these lines. There can be no balanced assessment of RN’s presidency without an understanding of what he was up against.