Bobby Goldsboro actually never sang songs that reflected the spirit of the ’60s. He left that to Peter, Paul & Mary and that eternal teenager, Mick Jagger. Goldsboro’s more gentle songs kept hope alive while many college students were occupying the Dean’s office, while Jane Fonda was applauding North Vietnam and while John Kerry was trashing his Vietnam War comrades.
Fruit still doesn’t fall very far from the tree. Today the children of the children of the Sixties are still Occupying, though they have gone on to bigger things. Instead of the Dean’s office, they are occupying Wall Street, big city parks, and high governmental positions.
As for Jane Fonda, I don’t think she’s had as many Christian conversions as baseball’s Darryl Strawberry, but she did profess a few years ago that she had become a Christian. And Mr. Kerry? He of the mellifluous voice whom I watched on the long ago Dick Cavett Show as he denigrated the nation’s military; he who threw his medals away; he who has cast aspersions on the military at every opportunity; he, dear reader, now is America’s Secretary of State.
What ironies four decades have wrought! What greater irony than the fact that another child of the ’60s who famously said he loathed the military (Bill Clinton) later became its Commander-in-Chief.
Yes, the fruit of the ’60s has been bitter. Its Sexual Revolution is over and everybody lost. Its War on Poverty produced poverty of the spirit. Its efforts to give citizens bread confirmed that we cannot live by bread alone. Its idea of faultless divorce produced divorce, plus confused children and sad teenagers.
During the ’60s, police were “pigs,” sin became sickness, and one nation under God became one nation under therapy. Parents started obeying children — literally — and the newly emerging sensitivity training became what Canadian journalist Mark Steyn calls “a sensitivity coma.”
Socrates’ “Know thyself” became public education’s “Esteem thyself.” In college psychology classes, self-reliance became “self-actualization.” Sixties college kids lapped it up.
Enter from the ’60s-like, pastoral spot called Hawaii, by way of an exotic, faraway Asian land, a child who would come forth and lead them. What matter that the nation must suffer a 20-year interlude of leadership, first from a California cowboy, next a fatherly patrician and after that, the patrician’s Texas cowboy son? Sixties kids were taught to take two steps forward and one step back. They would return. And they have.
I hate to say it, but we of the ’60s were not the greatest generation. We (or our roommates or classmates) changed America from a rules-centered culture to a rights-centered one. Turning Judeo-Christian self-denial on its head, we opted for “self-fulfillment.” We fed on Ayn Rand (“The Virtue of Selfishness”), and Abbie Hoffman (“Kill Your Parents”). We gaily embraced the mantra, “Tell It Like It Is,” implying that our parents had either been lying or just didn’t know what they were talking about.
Of course we received encouragement from many of our professors who, by the ’60s, had forsaken Cardinal John Henry Newman for Jean Jacques Rousseau. Newman, Catholicism’s greatest writer, had argued that education should elevate the mind for “high purpose.” Swiss philosopher Rousseau was far more interested in self-expression. Rousseau we learned well.
If we could identify a hinge year, a year when America turned toward a different cultural and political direction, it would be 1965. In that year LBJ secured for decades what FDR had begun three decades earlier: dependency on Big Government. Frankly, the California and Texas “cowboys” did not halt government’s growth enough to speak of. One of them advanced it.
How can we be optimistic facing the social wreckage and the political errancy of the ’60s? We can be optimistic and here’s why. Americans have a habit of figuring things out. Like a child who starts behaving, not out of a change of heart, but because he sees behaving is beneficial, so can a nation as a whole come to its senses socially and fiscally.
Churchill once remarked, “Americans always do the right thing, after exhausting every other possibility.” If he is right, and if we can find a few more lyricists like Bobby Goldsboro, things really can change.
Will there be a soft landing from the ’60s? Next year and 2016 will help determine that; so would a spiritual awakening.
Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school teacher and former state legislator.