Isto é uma das mais notáveis peças sociológicas que li nos últimos tempos. Vem na edição desta semana da Economist. (As minhas desculpas pelo link.)
The times they are a changin'. Really
Believe it or not, America is beginning to escape its groundhog decade
«WE'RE told on good authority that history repeats itself, but this is getting ridiculous. The past week has been a giant flashback to the 1960s. On Saturday 100,000 anti-war demonstrators descended on Washington, DC, to chant peacenik slogans and listen to Joan Baez sing “Where have all the flowers gone?” The only thing missing was Abbie Hoffman trying to levitate the Pentagon. And that's not all. PBS broadcast Martin Scorsese's lengthy homage to Bob Dylan, alongside a week of tributes to “the years that shaped a generation” (including a special edition of “Antiques Roadshow”). Both the Rolling Stones and Jane Fonda have dragged their aged limbs on tour.
There have been a few attempts to update things. This time, some anti-war protesters wore T-shirts that read “make levees not war”, while Sir Michael Jagger has penned a song about the evils of neo-conservatism. But for the most part, everybody seems happiest with golden oldies.
Why are the 1960s so difficult to escape? One reason is the sheer size of the baby-boom generation. Giant arboreal slums of boomers now sit at the top of every establishment tree, not least the media. And like all ageing geezers they continue to see the world through the prism of their youths. Listen to Charles Rangel, a black congressman from New York, comparing George Bush to Bull Connor (the notorious white police boss in Birmingham, Alabama); or Jesse Jackson likening the peace protesters to the civil-rights heroine, Rosa Parks; or just about every pundit doing the “Iraq war as Vietnam quagmire” routine.
The other reason why the 1960s are so hard to shake off is that the decade split America down the middle, launching the culture wars that still haunt American politics and redefining America's two great parties. The Democrats became the party of people who regarded the 1960s as an unmitigated good (particularly feminists, blacks and social liberals) while the Republicans regarded the 1960s as an unmitigated evil (particularly white southerners and other “conservatives of the heart”).
This has made for “Groundhog Day” politics. Every election the same arguments appear about draft dodging, the permissive society and so on. Last year, while Iraq burned, American politics fixated on which Swift Boat veteran did what 40 years ago.
Is there really no escape? In fact, last year's election looks like the last hurrah for 1960s politics. John Kerry presumably thought that turning the 2004 election into a referendum on his war service in Vietnam was a slam-dunk, given that he fought heroically while Mr Bush skulked at home. But many voters were less obsessed by the Mekong Delta, and others remembered him as a war protester, not a war hero.
The future of both parties is in the hands of people who want to jettison their 1960s baggage. On the Democrat side, before Mr Kerry reintroduced Vietnam, the Clintonites had spent much of the 1990s distancing themselves from Eugene McCarthy. They demonised black radicals such as Sister Souljah, embraced tough policies on crime and welfare, supported school uniforms and V-chips, and sent American bombers into Bosnia. In her preparation for 2008, Hillary Clinton has taken positions on military force and abortion rights that would have scandalised her younger self. Barack Obama, a possible running mate, is very different from the older black leaders. On the relative merits of liberal and conservative solutions to black poverty—spending more money versus changing the behaviour of the poor—he says: “It's not either/or. It's both/and.”
For their part, the Republicans have been trying to get beyond Richard Nixon's “southern strategy”. Mr Bush has appointed blacks to more senior positions in his administration than any previous president and lavished more attention on wooing black voters. The reason why black Democrats seized on the catastrophe in New Orleans to demonise Mr Bush is not because they really think that he is Bull Connor reincarnated, but because they worry that his strategy of creating a multicultural Republican Party might get somewhere.
The old road is rapidly ageing
More broadly, American society is beginning to make its peace with that divisive decade: it is becoming neither a pro-1960s culture nor an anti-1960s culture but a post-1960s culture. Polls show only 5% of voters objecting to the civil-rights revolution. For all the rage of the culture warriors, most Americans—particularly young ones—put a high premium on “tolerance”. At the same time, they also think that the counter-culture went too far. Very few people decry the nuclear family or urge people to tune in, turn on and drop out.
Society is in a process of repairing itself after the big dislocations of the 1960s, when rates of crime, pre-marital sex and family breakdown began to surge. (The annual number of divorces, for example, more than doubled between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s.) The figures for teenage pregnancy and abortion are both declining. Crime is down (America now has fewer burglaries per head than Canada), and divorce is beginning to drop, particularly among the college-educated, as the children of divorced parents re-embrace the nuclear family. Most young Americans say they believe in God and love their country.
Mr Dylan remains such an iconic figure not because he embodied the 1960s but because, unlike many of his acolytes, he refused to be defined by the decade. Mr Scorsese makes great play about the way the folk protester infuriated his hard-core fans by going electric. But this was only one of the bard's changes. He distanced himself from his protest songs. He got God in a big way. And in his recent memoirs he boasts that his dream was a “nine-to-five existence, a house on a tree-lined block with a white picket fence, pink roses in the backyard.” That's where the flowers went, Joan.»