The year will end shortly and 2014 will be upon us. As everyone looks into the future I prefer to look into the past. 50 years have gone by since 1964 and yet this pivotal year in history barely registers to anyone. The recent Cold War and Kennedy discussions have prompted me to change that.
The 1960’s were a unique period of many contradictions. The economy thrived better than even the vaunted 1990s. America also put a man on the moon something unfathomable today. However the horrors of the Vietnam War and the rise of counterculture politics have eclipsed much of that. The decade should be divided into three eras; Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.
The early 1960’s was the Kennedy period. It wasn’t a whole lot different than the decade before. Pleasant suburbs, varsity jackets, nice suits, and a happy home come to mind when imagining this era. This paradise was not to last as dark forces were on the horizon. The Kennedy period should be understood as the calm before the storm.
Kennedy cheated to win office in 1960 much like Bush in 2000. Both elections were extremely close and could have gone either way. Dirty tricks made the difference. In both cases the better man lost and the country was worse off. Kennedy and Bush were also northeastern blue bloods. Both had warmongering cabinets and VPs as well. Robert McNamara humble later in life but no less loathsome than Donald Rumsfeld when he was Secretary of Defense.
Nevertheless all was well until Kennedy died. That began the ……odious Johnson era. Gone was the glitz and glamor of JFK replaced by the guns and butter of Johnson. Originally the USA’s role in South Vietnam was advisory, logistics, and special ops related. That’s understandable given the worldwide battle against communism. The Soviet Union was doing the same thing in support of North Vietnam. What changed things for the worse was Johnson’s decision in 1964 to expand the war when they realized indigenous forces could not win. He misled the public with the Gulf of Tonkin incident giving him the pretext for expansion and Congress gave him total support with little debate. The results would be disastrous instead of simply cutting our losses then the US decided to dig deeper and not by an inch but a mile.
On the domestic front things were just as bad. 1964 would see passage of the Civil Rights Act something Johnson in particular believed in. Despite whatever good it achieved look no further than Detroit and other cities like it to appreciate it’s real impact on America. Even Kennedy wasn’t an enthusiastic supporter of “civil rights” as Johnson. While desegregation had already been underway before 1964 now it was totally cemented. Laws that had protected white neighborhoods from crime and the destruction of property values were eradicated.
Johnson also substantially expanded the welfare state. While I regard public broadcasting and medicare as national treasures there is no denying their perverse effects. One serves as a propaganda platform for pretentious and affluent liberals. The other has led to astronomical medical expenses just so grandpa can be a “fighter” for six more months. Worst of all were the new programs aimed to assist minorities and later women to help “break the cycle” of poverty. We see the consequences today at the DMV where white/black women sit on their fat ass all day waiting until their lucrative government pension kicks in.
Everything bad about the Johnson era didn’t occur exactly in 1964 but was enabled by his landslide reelection victory over Goldwater that same year. A critical moment demonstrating that Americans themselves were on board with his agenda. Boomers were barely able to vote then so you can’t simply scapegoat them for everything. 1964 was a chance for Americans to pull back and they didn’t.
America would come to regret it’s decision. From the mid 1960’s onward the country changed. It’s stunning how quickly even by today’s standards. Counter culture movements from the bizarre to dangerous sprang up everywhere. Crime also exploded an inevitable consequence of desegregation. Hard working parents who had sacrificed to send their children to college were denounced by their own brat kids as “racist, sexist, and homophobic”. The clean cut office man was replaced by the dirty and disgusting hippie. Even the sleek fashion earlier in the decade was replaced by tacky polyester suits. Widespread liberalism creates societal ugliness.
Then in 1968 came the Nixon era. Promising to attack the metastasizing cancers brought him to power in a landslide. By then however it was too late to undo the damage. Things could be salvaged and they were partially but the past could never be restored.
The Nixon era would also see the lunar landing. I think that was the apex of America. Most of our technology is derived from the Cold War space race including computers, satellites, lasers, stealth, even our most talented technologists today were born then or inspired by events of that era.
What will the next 50 years hold? Will someone write about us in a similar way decades from now? It’s so easy to recognize right and wrong in hindsight. Will 2014 be a turning point like 1964 was? We have the power to make it that way. Will you choose to?
- 5 myths about John F. Kennedy (stltoday.com)
- Editorial: Texas played many roles for JFK 50 years ago (macombdaily.com)
- 1968 Presidential Election (kpdumas.wordpress.com)