Two American moments cast the fate of politics here since post-war: the
Chicago Democratic convention marked by riots and massive demonstrations
at the height of the ’60s, and the second-term election of Ronald
Reagan in 1984. These two events, one of rage, one of consensus, would
claim us until today. But today we enter a turnstile and something else
awakens. Maybe something just ahead in Tampa. Maybe in 2016.
Quite by accident I happened to be at the 1968 convention in Chicago. My plane home from Saigon had just arrived in San Francisco and I had just enough money to get to Chicago by train. It was largely an anarchist disgrace with hippies bearing signs "Chicks up front" so bloodied college girls would feed the evening newsreels, but it did identify once and for all for the next 45 years the character of liberalism in America. Overnight, the party of the sedate Adlai Stevenson and modest traditionalists like Hubert Humphrey, the “happy warrior,” would become the party of Ted Kennedy and George McGovern. And had there been then no Jerry Rubin calling on the horde to go home and kill their parents, there would in the interim have been no Bill Clinton and, here at the denouement, no President Obama. This is the rude anthropology of events forged in time to make history.
After the attempt on Reagan’s life America returned to its senses. But ugly as it may seem, the ’68 riots in Chicago were probably the more characteristic historic path for actual political advancement. Things had been pent up, exacerbated especially by the unpopular war in Vietnam. Change needs a catalyst and the ’68 convention provided one.
Conservatism may be facing such a change today. Ron Paul, Judge Andrew Napolitano, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and others including libertarians bring to conservatism today a primary shift. It resembles in my opinion most closely the change Andrew Jackson brought to Washington of headstrong country people in direct opposition to the Washington elites. It too will have a breakout moment ahead because that is the way the world works.
I’m not talking Sons of Anarchy, but maybe something to responsibly rise from this, Dwight Eisenhower’s prescient speech at the 1956 Republican Convention in San Francisco:
"Geographical balance of power is essential to our form of free society. If you take the centralization shortcut every time something is to be done, you will perhaps sometimes get quick action. But there is no perhaps about the price you will pay for your impatience: the growth of a swollen, bureaucratic, monster government in Washington, in whose shadow our state and local governments will ultimately wither and die."