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If you are a baby boomer who grew up in the 1960s, such as myself, there are some very safe assumptions that anyone can make about your history and political views, both during the 1960s and the decades that followed.
For example, in the 1960s you were almost certainly against the Vietnam War. You were also likely to oppose President Lyndon Johnson and his Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. You cheered Eugene McCarthy’s anti-war campaign for President, and you probably also despised President Nixon and passionately wished that George McGovern had won the 1972 Presidential campaign.
Almost certainly you participated in some anti-war protests somewhere during the 1960s. Some of you were in Chicago for the protests during the Democratic National Convention in 1968, while others were likely to have participated in the numerous university sit-ins that were rampant throughout the country in the late 1960s.
Sadly, many of you at that time would have probably considered the police “pigs” and the military “evil” (even if those insults seem totally unfair, disgusting, and almost unforgivable to you now).
On a personal level, you probably experimented with drugs, had fun with rock ‘n roll, and even more fun with sex. Many of you also probably participated in the hippie culture at events like Woodstock and places like San Francisco and the Lower Eastside of Manhattan.
Above all, you abhorred authority. You were raised to be very independent-minded and strongly in favor of freedom, a word used a lot in the 1960s to justify any behavior consenting adults wished to do that did not harm another. Suggesting that the government had the right to dictate how you conducted any part your private life seemed entirely abhorrent.
Obviously, all of the above assumptions are ridiculous simplifications and stereotypes. Nonetheless, if you grew up in the 1960s, as I did, you will recognize that this description is based on a great deal of reality. It fits what all of us baby boomers know of that time period.
Flash forward to today. What assumptions can we safely make about the political views of the baby boomers in the subsequent decades following those turbulent 1960s?
For one, I think it is a very safe to suppose that if you were a hippie in the 1960s it is very likely you became a hardcore Democrat who is quite passionate about liberal causes. You almost certainly voted for Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama.
Moreover, most 1960s baby boomers decided in later years that it was a very good idea to use the government to solve society’s ills. Thus, you supported healthcare reform when Hillary Clinton proposed it in the early 1990s, and supported again when it was passed last year. You also support most environmental legislation and regulation, regardless of cost. Many of you now work in the academic or political world, advocating these liberal or sometimes socialist ideals passionately and with fervor.
Sadly, many of you consider conservatives “evil” or “fascist”. You also were likely to instantly assume that last year’s Tea Party protesters were clearly “racist”.
Am I the only person who sees the strange dichotomy here?
How is it that so many former hippies — who believed so strongly in freedom and individual rights — have allied themselves so closely with the Democratic Party and its philosophy of big government, complicated social programs, and high regulation and supervision of our lives?
Since the 1980s — when I first realized how much I disagreed with modern liberal philosophy and its casual disregard for freedom and individual rights — I have repeatedly asked this question. I ask my liberal relatives. I ask my liberal hippie friends. I ask everyone from my generation who — every time politics comes up in conversation — advocates a strong federal role in every aspect of our lives.
I can’t understand the transition. It baffles me. How can you be so passionate against authority and its abuses in the 1960s and then advocate giving authority a lot of power in every political debate that has since followed? How do modern liberal baby boomers recouncil these two positions?
Unfortunately, though I have asked this question repeatedly, gently, with sincere curiosity, in as many different ways as I can conceive, I have never gotten any clear or logical explanation. Most of the time the questionee gets irritated and goes off in a huff, annoyed by the question. Rarely, they try to give an answer but in the end fail to provide a rational explanation and give up.
Thus, I write this essay. If there are any passionate liberal Democratic advocates out there who were passionate free-thinking hippies in the 1960s who think they can give me an explanation for this dichotomy, in a logical and coherent manner, I would be most grateful to hear what you have to say.
I might strongly disagree with you, or find your rationale weak. You might even convince me of the logic of your position. At the very least, from my historian’s perspective, your thoughts might help me understand the historical processes that have so influenced our country for the past five decades.
On the other hand, you in turn might suddenly realize that this strange dichotomy exists, and that it might be time to abandon some long held liberal positions. These ideas really don’t match up with the beliefs you once espoused as a youth, and have not served you (or us) well in the subsequent decades.