Occupy Wall Street and the Chicago '68 Riots
As the man said, those ignorant of their history are condemned to repeat it. How much worse are those who deliberately ignore it?
Deliberately ignoring their own record is a liberal specialty. The ideology could not exist without it. There is scarcely a major event of the last century that matches what liberal mythology has to say about it -- the Depression, WWII, the civil rights movement, the Cold War... They have suppressed, ignored, and hidden the facts about each of these events and more, instead constructing a glittering façade in which liberals are always right, always heroic, and always victorious.
One episode they're ignoring today -- and a particularly ignoble one -- occurred from August 23 to 29, 1968. Known variously as the Chicago convention riots, the Chicago protests, or simply "Czechago" (a reference to the contemporaneous Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia), it comprised one of the key events of the '60s. Some would go so far as to say that it marked the decade's climax.
The Democrats met in Chicago, supposedly under the benevolent control of the Daley clan, to nominate their presidential candidate. It had been a strange and brutal primary season. An uprising by the party's far left, led by Sen. Eugene McCarthy, challenged incumbent Lyndon Johnson on an anti-Vietnam War platform. McCarthy effectively won the New Hampshire primary, coming in second in the vote but bagging most of the delegates and prompting Johnson to bow out in March. Vice President Hubert Humphrey ran instead. Seeing his chance, Bobby Kennedy leaped in, soon outlapping the lesser-known McCarthy. It appeared that that the Kennedy dynasty was in the process of seizing its legacy when RFK was shot by Palestinian gunman Sirhan Sirhan. The path appeared clear for Humphrey. (All this time, the sole GOP candidate, Richard Nixon, was alternately chuckling and shaking his head.)
For several years, liberals had been attempting to co-opt the kids, to take control of the youth revolt of the '60s -- the youthquake, the counterculture, whatever -- and use it for their own purposes, much as they had done with the civil rights movement earlier in the decade. Giving lip service to the kid's concerns, intoning that "we must listen when the young people speak out," mouthing approval of demonstrations, wearing paisley ties, the liberal Democrats did their level best to nudge the kids into becoming part of the liberal voting bloc.
What they couldn't grasp (and in large part still don't) was that the '60s revolt was aimed as much at liberalism as anything else. In the 1960s, liberalism was in control. It was the Establishment the kids were revolting against. There was no organized political opposition, and there hadn't been since the McCarthy debacle in the mid-'50s. (Barry Goldwater, the first conservative Republican presidential aspirant since Calvin Coolidge, had been routed in 1964 by being transformed into Joe McCarthy, Jr.) Liberals had effectively run the country since the days of the New Deal and had been in complete political control since JFK took office. They had their plans -- not at all different from those of our current incumbent. At the time, it was expressed in the form of the "Great Society," an LBJ brainstorm that, like every other social-democratic attempt at governing, amounted to a soft form of totalitarianism. In exchange for cradle-to-grave welfare, the Great Society would run everything in the country for you without you having to bother your head about it. All you had to do was keep voting Row A.
American kids weren't having any of it, and throughout the latter half of the decade, they carried out what amounted to a massive, universal strike aimed directly at the liberal superstate. (Many conservatives operate under the assumption that it was aimed at them. But conservatism during the '60s was still a coterie phenomenon, as far from the levers of power as it's possible to get. The Reagan Revolution was a decade and more in the future.) This was helped along by the fact that the Vietnam War, yet another liberal project, had been dumped on the backs of the very kids that the liberals were trying to seduce. Very few Ivy-educated liberals were dying under Vietnam's triple-canopy jungle.
By 1968, in large part due to hostility against the war, the New Left had succeeded in taking the driver's seat, but that's another story. Suffice it to say that at the time of the convention, Americans in their teens and twenties, whether left, right, or indifferent, had a serious grudge against the Democratic Party. They had no compunction about tearing down and stomping flat the liberal façade, and in Chicago '68, that's exactly what they did.
The Chicago convention is unquestionably the most wild-eyed political convention ever held in this country. Demonstrators came early and stayed late. While many were organized by the SDS, the Yippies, and the Mobe (National Mobilization Against the War), the larger number were freelance, showing up for the fun that was in it. They proceeded to put the Democrats on the grill. The lakefront area of Chicago was placed under siege. Several pitched battles were fought for Grant Park, and the crowd tried to storm the convention center. Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman showed up to goad people into fighting the cops from a safe distance (Abbie wearing a psychedelically painted GI helmet). Hundreds of arrests were made, beatings were rampant, and a curfew was declared to no avail. At last Mayor Richard J. Daley ordered the cops to open fire.
Cooler heads prevailed before a massacre could occur. All the same, the media portrayed the police, the mayor, the city, and by extension the Democrats as the villains. Walter Cronkite, at the peak of his influence, dismissed the cops as "thugs" on the air. The papers screamed of a "police riot," which was a little difficult to comprehend -- the police, after all, belonged in Chicago. They hadn't traveled thousands of miles to tear the place up.
As for the public, the conclusion was straightforward: the Democrats had for years declared themselves Spokesmen for the Youth, the buttoned-down allies of the hippies, Yippies, protestors, and demonstrators of whatever breed. And yet here they were trying to annihilate each other on national television. Voters wished a plague upon both, and that was the end of the Democrats for that election. Richard Nixon coasted to an easy win, setting the country on the road to Watergate, impeachment, and the election of Jimmy Carter. (Humphrey, the last honest old-school liberal ever to run for president, might well have done a better job. He'd have been a Truman figure, easing the wilder aspects of the liberal agenda and acting as a conciliator. There's one thing for sure -- nobody outside Georgia would have ever heard of Jimmy Carter.)
So here we are forty-odd years along, and what has changed? Nothing, if you're a Democrat. The same exact chain of events is occurring with the Occupy Wall Street gang. The 99ers are the Chicago mob with the addition of iPhones and minus the seriousness. Their appearance is similar -- high-priced boho rags, to-hell-with-it hair. Their rhetoric is indistinguishable. ("Power to the people, man!") Their behavior is identical: show up, hang out, yell, and posture for the cameras. The goal is the same -- take down the power structure. And so will be the result -- the destruction of the Democratic Party.
The media has carefully nurtured the 99ers as an alternative to the Tea Parties, despite the fact that they can scarcely muster 1% of the latter's numbers. The Democrats have been quick to jump on the bandwagon. Obama has made encouraging noises. Nancy Pelosi has offered direct praise. Rep. John Lewis showed up in Atlanta and got himself made a fool of. According to the New York Times, "[t]he Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party's powerful House fund-raising arm, is circulating a petition seeking 100,000 party supporters to declare that 'I stand with the Occupy Wall Street protests.'" (Hat tip: Peter Wehner.) Clearly, the Dems have adopted the movement and are going whole hog over it, with the media doing their best to assure that the connection is not overlooked.
The paradox here is, of course, is that the Wall Street moguls that the demonstrators are so eager to get at were Obama's most crucial supporters in 2008. A large chunk of the stimulus funds went to the financial houses that the mob wants to shut down. (Much of the rest went to the unions, which have now come out in support of the 99ers -- so now we have Obama's two biggest allies at each other's throats. That, in a nutshell, is liberal logic at work.)
There's no way this can end well. Yet the Democrats act as if it's all destined to work out according to their requirements of the moment. When it goes off, as it will -- the attacks on the cops in New York, the riot at the National Air and Space Museum in D.C., and the appearance of hardcore anarchist contingents reveal that clearly enough -- they will own it, just as they owned the Chicago riots. The voting public will derive the same lesson as they did in 1968.
The Democrats have been dodging the bullet since the late '60s. They have repeatedly danced up to the edge of the political abyss and then danced back again. Time after time -- with Chicago, the Nuclear Freeze, the Sandinistas, and 9/11, to mention just a few instances -- they have gotten away with it. Eventually, by the simple factor of odds, they will go over the edge and go splat. And the world will go on, unvexed by yet another form of organized dementia.
That may not happen this time either. They may get away with it once again. But at the very least, the 99ers will help take Obama down. That's good enough for me.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.