Stu Bykofsky: A right turn

Protester is arrested in Chicago during the tumultuous Democratic National Convention in August 1968, when police and National Guard troops scrapped with demonstrators.
Protester is arrested in Chicago during the tumultuous Democratic National Convention in August 1968, when police and National Guard troops scrapped with demonstrators.

WHEN 'LIBERAL' BECAME POISON

Posted: November 14, 2008

THE MYTHOLOGY of the year 1968 A.D. is a black hole so powerful that objectivity can hardly escape it. What follows is drawn from research, from impartial sources and from my personal memory.

One of the most cherished beliefs about 1968 is that it culminated the years of liberals' struggle to improve America.

In fact, vast social change pre-dated 1968.

Under the Great Society, barriers were torn down in 1964 and 1965, with civil-rights acts outlawing racial segregation and enshrining equal opportunity in jobs and voting. In reality, it was 1968 that pushed America to the right for years to come.

In 1968 - horribly - Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down by white supremacist James Earl Ray in April. Riots followed. Robert F. Kennedy was murdered by Palestinian militant Sirhan Sirhan in June. The Democrats' convention was marred by riots in August.

In reaction to bombs' being set off by domestic terrorists and violent protests by the Far Left, offended (and possibly frightened) Americans lurched rightward. The "silent majority" was repulsed by the foul-mouthed, head-banded, fringe-wearing anarchists, hippies and Yippies whom they blamed for violence and disorder. They also blamed Democrats.

The White House was handed over to Richard Nixon. Republicans held it for most of the next 40 years.

I barely recognize the country being described in some of the historic accounts I have read of the year, and the period. There was violence, yes, but it didn't touch the average American whose exposure to it came through TV, which was becoming the shaper of the national psyche.

Nixon won the presidency in 1968 because the Democratic Party tore itself apart during its Chicago convention. Crazies waving Viet Cong flags marched through the streets, some throwing epithets and excrement at cops, who overreacted and waded into crowds with clubs swinging.

The crowd chanted, "The whole world is watching."

America was watching, too.

The Hard Left was in rebellion against a convention at which the "old boys network" would hand the nomination to Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey even though he'd sidestepped the primaries, preferring to corral votes in non-primary states. (The residue of the "old boys network" today are called "super delegates.")

Adding to the turmoil, the party had split over civil rights in what had been the segregated Democratic South. Long before Republicans had talked the talk of the "Southern strategy," the Democrats known as Dixiecrats had walked the walk.

Dixiecrats were in rebellion over the government guaranteeing minorities their American rights. Alabama Democratic Gov. George Wallace bolted his party in 1968 and ran for president on the American Independent Party ticket, capturing five Southern states and 46 electoral votes. No independent since has done better. Humphrey was trounced by Nixon in the Electoral College, 301-191, but came close in the popular vote. It was a pyrrhic victory for the churlish and childish Far Left: They "beat" Humphrey, who had been a liberal force in Congress, but turned the keys over to Tricky Dick and Spiro Agnew, ending a near-perfect run of Democratic presidents that began with FDR.

The road to George W. Bush was paved by 1968 and its aftermath. The Far Left's public outrages poisoned the well for Democrats, which helps explain why no Democratic presidential candidate painted as "liberal" has won since then - until this year (Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton won as Southern moderates.)

Now, 40 years after '68, we are in another wretched year and have come through a watershed election. Obama was lifted because the deeply unpopular Bush is mocked at home and abroad, the Bush-pushed war is unpopular and the "October surprise" arrived early in the form of a shattered economy. On Bush's watch, Wall Street was used like a Wheel of Fortune by financial institutions that laid their bad paper on taxpayers. (Historical parallel: An 18-month stock slide that sucked 44 percent of the value out of the stock market began in 1968.)

Obama was 6-years-old for most of 1968. He doesn't remember it. I do. My advice, Barack: As you did during the general election, keep a healthy distance from the hysterical Far Left yakkers and bloggers. If they scare off moderates and independents, your mandate might crumble.

That's what 1968 taught me. *

E-mail stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. For recent columns:

http://go.philly.com/byko.

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