Sucked into the '60s?

I read this piece by Matt Bai last night and willed myself to ignore it until I saw an actual copy of the Times this afternoon and realized that it's on Page 1, above the fold!

Bai claims that the episodes involving Senate candidates Richard Blumenthal and Rand Paul are evidence that we haven't gotten over the '60s: "Both men found themselves unexpectedly sucked into the vortex that pulls us inexorably back to the 1960s," and "the trite and simplistic debate seems mismatched to the more complex conversations that most Americans are actually trying to have." This is the tiredest trope in the book. And it just isn't true:

Of Blumenthal, Bai says, "the controversy, stoked by his Republican opponent, has as much to do with all the 40-year-old emotions around draft boards and deferrals, the lingering bitterness among those who served and the torturous guilt among those who did not, as it does with the straight-up issue of veracity."

But no, that's not true -- there's no doubt that Blumenthal volunteered and served, and the "controversy" has nothing to do with that. (He did more during Vietnam than the previous vice president and the previous two presidents did, so not serving is obviously no longer a politically controversial issue.) The only issue was his veracity, which would be a real issue if it were, as Bai says, a "pattern."

The other problem is that there's no evidence of "controversy" except in the mind of the Times which created the story. A Greenberg internal poll has Blumenthal up 55-40 over Linda McMahon and with a 55-28 favorable rating. So the Bai piece can be read as yet another attempt by the Times to keep it's flawed story alive.

But let's move on to Blumenthal's partner in '60s-ism Rand Paul: "Mr. Paul, meanwhile, found himself hurtling into the past when ... he expressed philosophical reservations about the 1964 Civil Rights Act, specifically the provision that forced private businesses to integrate. ... The ensuing cries of racism probably made perfect sense to those who lived through the '60s. After all, if a white Southerner in 1964 opposed integration on constitutional grounds, odds were pretty good that bigotry was a motivating factor. And yet the national conversation around racism and its remedies today is considerably more nuanced than it was 50 years ago -- or even 10 years ago."

Then there's something about Tiger Woods, and the assertion, "Americans the president's age and younger are inclined to assume that one can question the responsibilities of government and private entities when it comes to race without necessarily being dismissed as a racist."

Is there any evidence of this assertion about what we are "inclined to assume"? No! Do most people 48 and younger think that it would be perfectly reasonable never to have passed the public accommodations provision of the Civil Rights Act? No! Do the "ensuing cries of racism" make sense even to those of us who didn't "live through the '60s"? Yes! Opposing the Civil Rights Act is controversial not because we're stuck in the '60s but because we're not -- it's over, it's established. Respectable people don't oppose Brown v. Board or the Civil Rights Act, or at least they don't talk about it.

This is sort of a model of a bad article -- a trite premise backed up by weasel phrases like "inclined to assume" and "lingering bitterness," with not even a passing attempt to adduce empirical evidence to back them up.

-- Mark Schmitt

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