HISTORICAL AMNESIA OCTOBER 9, 2013
In his Thursday column in The Washington Post, George Will gives a perfect encapsulation of his (widely shared) worldview and values without quite meaning to do so. For this reason, if no other, it deserves close attention.
Will begins by scolding liberals for holding up Lee Harvey Oswald as a symbol of American shortcomings when, Will explains, he (Oswald) was actually a Soviet sympathizer. Will believes, moreover, that John F. Kennedy's death, and the moral outrage that surrounded it (some of which was directed at the right wing), led to a dangerous form of liberalism.
The new liberalism-as-paternalism would be about correcting other people's defects...Punitive liberalism preached the necessity of national repentance for a history of crimes and misdeeds that had produced a present so poisonous that it murdered a president.
To be a liberal would mean being a scold. Liberalism would become the doctrine of grievance groups owed redress for cumulative inherited injuries inflicted by the nation’s tawdry history, toxic present and ominous future.
Will is of course being entirely sarcastic here. But the era he is discussing began in 1963. At that time, America was still segregated. Gay rights were nonexistent. The women's movement hadn't made most of its strides. He continues:
Under Kennedy, liberalism began to become more stylistic than programmatic. After him — especially after his successor, Lyndon Johnson, a child of the New Deal, drove to enactment the Civil Rights Act , Medicare and Medicaid — liberalism became less concerned with material well-being than with lifestyle and cultural issues such as feminism, abortion and sexual freedom.
Will is slightly changing the goal posts here, because originally he had written that liberalism's decline began after Kennedy. Regardless: Does he support Johnson's liberalism? Was he in favor of The Civil Rights Act and Medicare? Is he glad that feminism became such a giant cultural issue? No answers here. Will then turns to what drove this change:
Foremost among these forces was the college-bound population bulge — baby boomers with their sense of entitlement and moral superiority, vanities encouraged by an intelligentsia bored by peace and prosperity and hungry for heroic politics.
This passage is remarkably confusing. He is arguing that the left-wing intelligentsia, and non-establishment liberals and leftists, were so bored by the "peace and prosperity" of the 1950s that they expended themselves in...what? Trying to end a pointless and bloody war in Vietnam? I thought they were sick of peace.
But back to the "moral superiority" that Will is so concerned about. I wish he would tell us his own opinion of the gay rights, women's rights, and civil rights movements, and then explain whether or not it's acceptable to feel morally superior to, say, bigots. Just once it would be nice to hear a right-winger say that he regrets the rise of feminism, or that he wishes the Vietnam War had gone on for another decade. If Will himself doesn't feel that way, he should spend less time lecturing the people who brought about real change, and more time asking himself why he is so nostalgic for an era many times worse than our own.