“Hey, Hey, LBJ …”

Gary Younge writes in The Guardian,

The joke is not on Lamont or his followers, but on those who brand them insurrectionists. Opposing illegal wars and torture are not radical positions. These are ordinary people, indignant at the “premeditated” deception of their commander-in-chief.

“Pundits” like David Broder and even the usually sensible Jonathan Alter are certain that the Connecticut Insurgency is going to return the Democrats to the bad old days of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern — a syndrome Digby calls “pathological fear of hippies.” And Cokie Roberts made an ass of herself this weekend by shrieking that a win for Lamont tomorrow would pull the Democrats to the Left “to the position from which it traditionally loses.”

Like Dems were doing so well in elections otherwise.

Whatever resemblance the Iraq War has to Vietnam, the home front seems to me to be very different from what it was in the Vietnam era. Back then, even though polls taken during the LBJ and Nixon Administration say most people thought Vietnam was a mistake (54 percent in 1968; 61 percent in 1971), to a 20-something those times felt like generational war; rebellious youth against the war versus the Establishment that supported it

But it wasn’t just about the war then. The antiwar movement, the Black Power movement, and second wave feminism all arose about the same time and got in the face of the status quo. Wrap all that up within the 1960s counterculture, and you get one hell of a blowback. And that blowback was political gold for Nixon, who played it masterfully to win re-election in a landslide in 1972.

Indeed, today’s Right still seems traumatized by the 1960s. Like someday we lefties are going to go on a collective acid flashback and revert to form. We will grow our hair out again and drench ourselves in patchouli oil; we will break into their homes and force them to wear love beads and tie-dye. BWAHAHAHAHAHAH!

But we’re in a very different place today, and it’s not just because of the osteoarthritis. The antiwar and various liberation movements of the 1960s were, in the context of the times, radical challenges to political and social norms across the board; the counterculture was bent on sweeping away the old establishment and creating something entirely new. But although we may have swept away much of the old establishment, what replaced it was not liberal utopia but Reaganism. As Fred Siegel wrote here (scroll down to the essay under the subhead “American History”),

But this new conservatism did not so much win the country over to its perspective as board the empty ship of state vacated by a 1960s liberalism that had self-destructed. Conservatism triumphed because New Deal liberalism was unable to accommodate the new cultural and political demands unleashed by the civil rights revolution, feminism, and the counterculture, all of which was exacerbated by the Kulturkampf over Vietnam.

The irony of this is that radicalism won, after all. The “conservatism” that holds power now has pulled the nation so far to the Right I hardly recognize it any more. The “insurgent” movement, on the other hand, is not revolutionary but counter-reactionary. Now it’s the “establishment” pushing radical cultural change; the “insurgents” are more interested in traditional kitchen-table issues like jobs, Social Security, and health care.

Gary Younge continues,

Some have described it as a struggle for the heart and soul of the Democratic party, but a more accurate portrayal would be a battle to establish whether the party should have a soul at all. It raises not only the question of what does the party stand for apart from office but also whether it is prepared to adopt an agenda that could actually win office. This race could set the tone for the 2008 presidential elections.

You’ve got to wonder what strange times we live in when it’s considered politically perilous to take a position favored by a whopping majority of the voters. Although the war in Iraq is an obvious disaster, and now the entire Middle East is tottering on the edge of catastrophe, somehow it’s centrist to enable this mess. But if one suggests that instead of using “creative chaos” to remake the Middle East we should refocus our attention and resources on more conventional counter-terrorism measures to protect the nation, that person is a radical.

Forty years ago Lyndon Johnson sent troops to Vietnam because he didn’t want to be called “soft on communism.” Today’s Dems are afraid to speak up for moderation and sanity because they’re afraid to be called “peaceniks” or “McCarthyites.” Today’s Dems recall the “lessons” of 1972, but it ain’t 1972 any more.

Update: Martin Peretz rejoices that the peace Democrats are back.

We have been here before. Left-wing Democrats are once again fielding single-issue “peace candidates,” and the one in Connecticut, like several in the 1970s, is a middle-aged patrician, seeking office de haut en bas, and almost entirely because he can.

Then, after recalling “peace Democrats” of earlier times and how they lost elections, Peretz continues,

If Mr. Lieberman goes down, the thought-enforcers of the left will target other centrists as if the center was the locus of a terrible heresy, an emphasis on national strength. Of course, they cannot touch Hillary Clinton, who lists rightward and then leftward so dexterously that she eludes positioning. Not so Mr. Lieberman. He does not camouflage his opinions. He does not play for safety, which is why he is now unsafe.

Hmm, maybe “peace Democrats” lose elections, but it seems being a “war Democrat” is risky, also. What’s a Democrat to do, Mr. Peretz?

Scott Lemieux, emptywheel, BooMan, the Heretik, and Steve M. say all that needs to be said about Peretz.