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Obliterating the 60s

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To the editors:

Eleanor Stoddard's letter [February 8] was mostly hilarious. Upon reading it I had to take another look at Mike McGrath's review of Ronald Reagan's autobiography [January 18] to see if McGrath really had included loopy, loony conspiracy theories worthy of Lyndon LaRouche. I'm still looking. If anything, McGrath was relatively gracious; the review contained a large number of excerpts from the book while confining its analysis of our ex-executive to his thought processes and lack thereof. There was plenty of room left for readers to draw their own conclusions about Reagan's opinions and his presidency. Perhaps McGrath stacked the deck a bit with repeated references to Reagan era scandals, blunders, and defraudations, but so be it. These were all well documented by publications having nothing to do with the "loony left." It would be irresponsible to talk about the Reagan era without mentioning them.

What most intrigues me about Stoddard's letter, though, was the way she ended it: "not only are the '60s over; they were over before they began." I'm not going to split hairs over the fact that McGrath's review in no way used the 1960s as a political or moral reference point, or that its only mention of that decade is provided by a passage from Reagan's book. I'm much more interested in the functional value of this statement. What we potentially have here is a tool with which a stagnating conservative movement could consolidate and perhaps even extend its gains, if only it can muster the will, the vision, and the lack of scruples about taking an excessively Orwellian turn.

Consider the statement, "the 60s are over." (To my knowledge, no other decade has needed so many postmortems.) The implication is that any left of center political organizing, or challenge to the economic status quo, or open sexuality, or use of drugs for recreational purposes, is an abomination without any legitimate existence outside of the abominable decade in which it was practiced. After 15 or so years of telling us "the 60s are over," the conservative movement is finally in a position where it can tell us all that fun stuff never even happened: "they were over before they began." The value of this tactic is that it can be used to obliterate any other social movement from the past which present-day organizers at odds with the conservative agenda might look to for inspiration. Labor unions trying to get back theirs? The 30s were over before they began. Feminists striving for their political rights? The women's suffrage movement was over before it began. (Take THAT, Sister Serpents.) Environmentalism? The early 70s were over before they began. A looming populist revolt? The 1890s were over before they began. There is no need to mention the aspirations of African Americans, because the 60s have already been disposed of. But to be on the safe side, the mid to late 50s were also over before they began.

The danger in all of this for the conservatives is that people might think the 80s were over before they began, since most everyone forgot the 80s as they happened. It should be easy enough to forestall this possibility with a massive advertising campaign: "The 80s were real." Those willing and able to suspend disbelief enough for the success of this campaign should buy Reagan's book now. Those who aren't should turn to their left and walk to the loony bin.

Frank Rawland

N. Elk Grove

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