In my history classes I point out, as often as possible, connections between the present and the past. In fact, it is the basic teaching strategy that underlies all the courses I teach. Not only are they interesting, but mentioning comparisons are a useful way of engaging young people, demonstrating how history is alive, how history helps us to understand the present, and how the past is never dead. Continue reading this post.
Many of the themes discussed in Framing the Sixties remain ever present in American politics, perhaps none more powerful than continued nostalgia for President Kennedy. As Ben Bradlee recently wrote in a recent column for Newsweek, My Friend, My President, “the possibilities seemed limitless when he stood hatless at the Capitol in the bitter cold, long before the awful day in Dallas that cut the dream short.”
Sarah Palin seems to have learned quite well the lesson of Framing the Sixties: The Use and Abuse of a Decade From Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, which is to blame the 1960s for our problems. In a speech at the Reagan Ranch Center, Palin said that “Reagan saw the dangers in L.B.J.’s Great Society. He refused to sit down and be silent as our liberties were eroded by an out-of-control centralized government that overtaxed and overreached in utter disregard of constitutional limits.” As I show in my book, Democrats are in no mood to embrace L.B.J., but that has not stopped Republicans from linking them with the saddle of L.B.J.’s so-called “Bad Sixties.” Palin’s recent remarks are just another indicator that sixties-bashing shows no signs of waning. While Obama would prefer to be compared to J.F.K., he can’t escape being called another L.B.J. by the Right.
Framing the Sixties has just received an excellent review in the latest issue of the Journal of American History, the leading journal in the field, by Professor Alexander Bloom of Wheaton College. A leading authority on American politics and culture, Bloom is the author of Prodigal Sons: The New York Intellectuals and Their World, and Long Time Gone: Sixties America Then and Now. Bloom is also the co-author of “Takin’ it to the streets”: A Sixties Reader. In his generous review of Framing the Sixties, Bloom wrote that “His research has been prodigious; he combed every presidential library and countless periodicals, and he interviewed just about everyone,” adding that “One can almost read a history of the last thirty years embedded in von Bothmer’s analysis—covering everything from race relations to welfare reform to family values to the wars in Iraq. More than a tool of political rhetoric, the sixties seem to help shape the modern reality, far more than previous decades.” My sincere thanks to Professor Bloom for taking the time to write such a thoughtful review of my book.
Many commentators and historians see comparisons between the Tea Party and the rise of the Right in the 1960s. Today’s New York Times has a fascinating piece that finds the root of the Tea party in ’60s-era conservatives. “The Tea Party supporters recycle their language from the conservative movements of the early 1960s in response to the Kennedy presidency,” the story argues, writing later that one can find in the Tea Party “echoes of the early 1960s.”
As I note in my book, no Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of the white vote since the 1960s. To one commentator, Democratic support among white voters could plummet in November, contributing to enormous loses for the party in the mid term elections. Issues that stem from the sixties, he infers, still very much guide the current of American politics.
Many of the issues raised in Framing the Sixties continue to be seen in American politics. Here’s Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), in a recent appearance on NY1 television: “The group that were in Washington fighting against the health bill and fighting against the President, looked just like and sounded just like those groups that attacked the civil rights movement in the South.” The political use of the 1960s, it seems, shows no signs of slowing down.