"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Sixties And Family Values

Many liberal observers have wondered what happened to the Sixties. How is it that the enshrined values of cultural, gender, social, and ethnic diversity have been so challenged by the Right?  Robert Self (All In The Family: Realignment of American Democracy Since the Sixties, reviewed by Geoffrey Kabaservice, The New Republic 12.20.12), is one of these unreconstructed liberals who longs for the distant, romanticized past and claims that if it had not been for infighting between traditional LBJ liberals and more radical leftists, the social revolution could have accelerated, gained momentum and inertia, and accomplished all it set out to do.  Today we would not have to settle for an acknowledgement of our individual rights and equality of opportunity, but these rights and privileges would be codified into law:

The rights revolution enlarged opportunities for minorities, challenged norms of masculinity and womanhood, secured reproductive rights and more workplace equality for women, and obtained greater freedoms for gays and lesbians. But these were incomplete victories, in Self’s view, since it proved difficult to secure positive liberties—that is, active state assistance to allow citizens to exercise their rights by means such as state recognition of gay marriage. Instead, activists usually had to settle for negative liberties, in which the state merely acknowledged that citizens were free to pursue their liberties to the extent that their own individual resources allowed (Geoffrey Kabaservice, as above)

Liberal traditionalists who had their political origins in the New Deal and the Great Society who wanted to promote a tamer, more familiar agenda of ‘family values’ – hard work, discipline, and enterprise supported by the state – clashed with those younger and more militant ‘progressives’ who wanted structural change and a total reordering of social institutions.

Self makes a strong case that politicized arguments over family were at the heart of liberalism’s crackup and the rise of the right. He offers the useful term “breadwinner liberalism” to describe the Democratic effort, from the New Deal through the Great Society, to advance economic and social policies that would allow more families—headed by a patriotic, hardworking, and presumably white and straight male provider—to enter the middle class.

But Self argues that the model of the family envisaged by breadwinner liberalism was “narrow, obsolete, and uncommon” even by the 1960s, with more women in the workforce, greater availability of sexual choices beyond early marriage, and growing numbers of “unconventional” families. Moreover, the traditional model took little account of the needs (or sometimes even the humanity) of women, blacks, and Hispanics, homosexuals, and dissenters and nonconformists of all stripes (Geoffrey Kabaservice)

Conservatives got into the fight and not only supported the liberal vision of traditional families, but took on the radicals with a vengeance. The feminization of America, they argued, including the rise of gay power was not just an expression of frustrated sexuality and retarded economic and social status; but an attempt to dismantle the very basic architecture of American life – the family.  The backlash against the Sixties gained its own momentum and power.  Many if not most Americans finally were able to voice their anger at the incursions of what they considered anti-Christian values.  What had America come to when transgender, sexually reworked, inverted versions of Adam and Eve become so current and tolerated?

Archie Bunker, the famous liberal in a bigot’s disguise, was one of the most popular TV Americans of the Seventies. The show was aired by bottom line-sensitive executives because it was a call for tolerance, respect, and individual dignity; but most network types understood that Archie was spouting the kinds of invectives that most people wanted to say but couldn’t with the rise of Political Correctness.  The show was one of the most brilliant inventions of television – it could appeal to the basic, primitive, and raw feelings of racism and homophobia existing in most people while exonerating them for holding them.

Most people wished they could speak as openly and honestly as Archie about their resentment to the rise of pushy women, swishy homos, and the ghetto-strutting colored.

The show’s humor derived from Bunker’s poorly articulated bigotry and resentment against the social changes of the 1960s—feminism, the counterculture, youth and antiwar activism, legalized abortion, expanded roles for minorities, open homosexuality—and his confrontations with those new forces in his own family and neighborhood (Geoffrey Kabaservice)

If anything, intolerance for Sixties-style social radicalism has increased.  Although the chattering classes of the East and West Coasts will, like Leonard Bernstein, entertain the most outrageous cross-dressers and transvestites at afternoon tea, hardworking folk in Houma, Louisiana, Cleveland, Mississippi, and Beaumont, Texas will eat BBQ, boiled shrimp, and grits with close family and friends.  Enough is enough, they say. Tolerance is one thing, but an all out, wholesale assault on Biblical values must be resisted.

Political conservatives, say Self, have offered a home for those many Americans who want refuge from Bay-to-Breakers, Gay Pride Day in the Castro, and the endless lionizing of twisted, sexual alterations.

Self admires and abhors social activism.  As a ‘liberationalist’ he applauds the aggressive and militant protests of the Sixties, but criticizes today’s right for their equally vigorous promotion of traditional family values.  He, and other liberals, fail to understand the violation felt at the ascendancy of non-traditional expressions of sexuality.  Even the most tolerant families resent the blatant promotion of a sexual lifestyle which is not only potentially disruptive to the millennia-old family, but exemplary of an anti-conception, venal, and self-centered society.  How can homosexuals have the same understanding and empathy for the cycles of human nature, procreation, and family-oriented community as straight couples?

Self acknowledges that racial tolerance has proceeded faster than gender.  Most people have known successful, bourgeois, traditional black people who pose no threat to them and to society.  If they behave, say these new converts, then we will accept black people, no problem.  But LGBT no way.

What continues to amaze me is the intolerance East and West Coast liberals have for the rest of the country.  There is no more prejudiced and intolerant a group than those so-called ‘progressives’ who are convinced of the rightness of their cause.  There is an absolutism, a righteousness and self-congratulatory conviction about guns, abortion, homosexuality, and gender that sets them apart from the majority of Americans.  They wonder how so many people could have voted Republican; how the Tea Party can possibly exist; how the NRA has so many adherents; how such ignorant devotion can persist.

The Sixties, as Self points out, was a pivotal time for America; a time after which one was either for or against things.  It is no wonder that Congress is stalemated, gridlocked, and immobile.  The social agenda promoted by Sixties radicals polarized American far more than civil rights, economic difference, or war.

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