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Friday, August 08, 2008

Reliving history


I was teaching in Munich in the fall of 1973. One of the things I enjoyed there in Germany, though, was listening late at night, European time, to broadcasts from the U.S. about the congressional revelations of criminal conspiracy by the Nixon administration and the administration's desperate attempts to cover it up. You see, back then I still hoped that the turmoil of the 60s would issue in some transformation of American politics. The corruption of Nixon's regime looked like it might be that longed-for turning point. He resigned. on this date, less than a year later. The Vietnam war did end in another year. And then there was Carter, who's pieties were no match for the reaction that was underway. That reaction to the 60s triumphed in Reagan's election and has shaped our politics ever since. So Nixon's corruption and incompetence was a turning-point after all. After JFK's assassination the political promise of his leadership began gradually to decay; but after Nixon the decay just accelerated, drowning Carter's efforts and hurtling downwards through the excesses and greed of the Reagan years, continued by the hapless Bush 41. Clinton revived those old 60s ideals, only to squander his prospects in the kind of self-indulgence that seemed to vindicate the rage against the 60s still nursed by reactionaries like Dick Cheney. Clinton's weakness returned those reactionaries to power and they've used it to perpetrate malefaction on a scale that makes Nixon's seem mere misdemeanors. It's tempting to think that now, a full generation later, this is at last a real turning-point. But I've been wrong before...

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