Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Not So Over

A New York Times article points out that two current politicians are in trouble for statements they've made concerning two of the dominant issues of the 1960s, a half century later. The Times offers some opinions on why, but the short and obvious answer would be that these issues are unresolved.

Rand Paul tried to dodge from his previously stated position that, contrary to the Civil Rights Act, private businesses should have the right to discriminate because of race-- such as a restaurant refusing service to blacks, one of the flashpoints of the Civil Rights movement. Breaking legal segregation was the purpose of the lunch counter sit-ins, in the photo above.

Paul's view not only reflects a current nostalgia for libertarian ideals and simplicities, it plays to the resurgent racism brought to the surface by, among other things, the daily sight of a black U.S. President. Rand Paul may not be an overt racist himself, but his Tea Party supporters undoubtedly include racists, who would perhaps also deny the charge. Their rhetoric is about liberty, which they seem happy to reserve for themselves and for their businesses, but not for minorities. The true meaning of freedom and a democratic society must be learned and relearned.

Richard Blumenthal in Connecticut at the very least allowed others to retain the impression that he was a soldier in Vietnam, when he was in the Marine reserves, and may have been an opponent of the war. Whether it is political opportunism or the kind of emotional identification that led Hillary Clinton to believe she'd been under fire in Eastern Europe, it speaks in part to a new alignment of the honored veteran versus the protestors. Blumenthal apparently even repeated the discredited lie that returning veterans were routinely spit upon as they returned, when in fact it was protestors who literally were spit upon and worse, with documentary footage to prove it.

Without odious comparison of the injuries, those of us who were young men then were all victims of that war, and while I have come to appreciate more the positive aspects of character that soldiering requires, I am not revising my moral judgment of the Vietnam war itself. During media discussions of the Blumenthal story I also heard a Vietnam veteran say that vets didn't bear grudges against protestors, but that isn't what Maxine Hong Kingston found in her Bay Area group, where men who served as U.S. soldiers in Vietnam met and reconciled with their Vietnamese adversaries, but would not reconcile with American protestors. It seems that particular aspect of the war will never be over until we're all dead.