Would you agree or disagree with the proposition that "The United States would be better off if the '60s had never happened?"
Before you are put off with the provocative formulation of the question, understand that it is the resolution the Buckley School of Public Speaking has adopted as the debate topic for this week's seminar attendees. We have been split up into two teams, affirmative and negative, and assigned the task of supporting and defending the proposition, respectively.
Of course, Mr. Reid Buckley and his colleagues do not wish us to address whether we would literally prefer to erase this period from our history -- because to do so would mean such terrible things, for example, as that no one born in that decade should have been born. But they do intend for us to consider whether the social, cultural and political events of that decade were, on the whole, a positive influence on America's character.
I'm going to reserve my comments directly bearing on the resolution for Friday's debate and offer my position on a related subject that this exercise -- along with several recent events -- brought to mind.
That is, this nation's cultural elite, which includes a good number of proud sixties radicals, behave as though many of the controversial issues of the sixties (and early seventies) have been conclusively resolved in their favor. History, they believe, has vindicated their positions on these issues to the point of establishing them as self-evident truths that are no longer subject to debate.
Among those "truths" are:
-- Watergate was not only the worst political scandal in the nation's history; its collective sins are the worst imaginable set of wrongs that could ever be visited on a nation by its executive branch; and
-- America's military involvement in Vietnam was morally wrong.
Just last week, we witnessed the media's insatiable gluttony in consuming every morsel of the thirtieth anniversary of their favorite scandal -- the scandal that to them not only demonstrated President Nixon's consummate corruption, but the moral bankruptcy of the entire Republican Party. This, notwithstanding that it was ultimately Republicans who, by their willingness to subordinate their party interests to those of the nation, paved the pathway to Nixon's resignation.
When you ask any member of the elite for specifics in support of their immutable truth that Watergate was the gravest scandal in the history of the universe you will most likely be met with an indignant dismissal, or, at best, some clichéd general allegations of wrongdoing, rather than evidence. Their favorite is that Nixon threatened the very foundation of the Constitution itself, though it's never quite clear how he did that.
Putting aside Clinton's many transgressions and felonies, isn't it at least abundantly arguable that other presidents have come closer to undermining our constitutional framework? FDR, for example, in his court-packing scheme attempted to alter the balance of power among the three branches of government. But you'll receive no quarter in elite circles about this because Watergate as the premier scandal is an article of their faith.
The elite approach the Vietnam issue with equal close-mindedness and moralistic fervor. Their unchallengeable view is that America's military entry into Vietnam was wrong and those who objected to it were furthering the noblest of causes.
I was reminded of their smugness on this score when I read an open letter that Ed Asner, Noam Chomsky, Gloria Steinem, Michael Lerner, and other like-minded actors, activists and academics wrote to the Guardian of London. Under the title "Not In Our Name" the enlightened assured the rest of the world that they did not stand by the repressive, imperialistic and militaristic policies of the Bush administration. They appealed to all Americans to resist Bush's "unjust, immoral, and illegitimate" war and sought "to make common cause with the people of the world."
They said that in lodging their protest against the war on terror, they drew inspiration from "the many examples of resistance and conscience from ... "those who defied the Vietnam War by refusing orders, resisting the draft, and standing in solidarity with resisters."
Don't bother wasting your time in pointing out to these saints that it their exalted resistance that played into the hands of the murderous Communist regimes of North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and that when the protesters finally got their wish: that we withdraw, millions of innocents were slaughtered. We are not permitted to go there -- because the truth cannot be allowed to interfere with their selective memories and skewed worldview.
And in case you're wondering, the Buckley School is phenomenal. Now that's an immutable truth.