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Some of what’s been in the news lately shows that the turbulent decade that was the 1960s still has an effect on us — and may yet impact the 2016 election. Which prompted me to post this column over at Forbes.com. Here’s what got my attention;
1) The reported death of Burt Shavitz. You may not know the man, buy you’re probably familiar with his product: Burt’s Bees. Mr. Shavitz was a lot of things to a lot of people — former photojournalist in the 1960s, a guy who found a way to convert bee’s wax into personal-care products (lip balm, soap, deodorant, etc.). The best word to describe him just might be — ok, I’m going to say it: a hippie. As the company he co-founded posted on its website: “We remember him as a bearded, free-spirited Maine man, a beekeeper, a wisecracker, a lover of golden retrievers and his land. Above all, he taught us to never lose sight of our relationship with nature.” Right on!
2) The Grateful Dead playing its last show in Chicago this past weekend — a “long, strange trip” that began in San Francisco some 50 years ago and earned the band international acclaim and a cult-like following of “Deadheads.” As The Chicago Sun-Times duly noted: “A whiff of sadness mingled with the odors of marijuana, patchouli and sweat Friday, as thousands of “Deadheads” — many without tickets — gathered for the “Fare Thee Well” tour.” Far out!
3) Speaking of Truckin’, what to make of the Bernie Sanders juggernaut (ok, it’s not exactly an 18-wheel express, but the man is gaining traction)? The self-styled “Democratic Socialist” from Vermont was in Portland, Maine, for a Monday night town-hall meeting, playing to a larger-than-expected audience. Just as he drew 10,000 fans of class warfare and wealth resentment in Madison, Wisconsin last week and a standing-room crowd of 2,500 in Council Bluffs, Iowa this past weekend.
It’s the story, in 2015, of a sitting senator and candidate for the Democrat nomination lashing out against authority — and a government he accuses of having misplaced priorities.
Which sounds a lot like Eugene McCarthy back in 1968, right?
Well, not exactly.
Yes, Hillary Clinton gets to play the role of establishment heavy similar to that of LBJ and Hubert Humphrey. However, Humphrey didn’t get into the race until after the surprise outcome in New Hampshire and LBJ’s reading of the tea leaves.
Moreover, Humphrey didn’t bother to compete in 1968’s limited slate of primaries (only 14 that year), focusing instead on delegates available in non-primary states. Obviously, that’s the polar opposite of Mrs. Clinton’s strategy of slogging her way through Iowa and New Hampshire and beyond.
The second non-parallel: McCarthy focused on Robert Kennedy, not Humphrey, after RFK got into the race, with the two battling for the anti-war vote. This would be akin to Sanders spending his time on an outlier like Martin O’Malley rather than the more target-rich record of Mrs. Clinton (as he’s started to do).
Finally, there’s the test of words converting to action.
In 1968, McCarthy so motivated young voters that they not only tuned in, but also washed up, shaved, and made themselves more presentable so as to be more effective grassroots activists in New Hampshire (“Clean For Gene”). While Sanders is drawing large crowds and getting media play, time will tell if the 2016 youth vote bothers to get off of social media and go door-to-door in Iowa and the Granite State.
Final note: McCarthy wasn’t a one-and-done presidential candidate. He ran again (as a Democrat) in 1972, then tried it as an independent in 1976. He’d make another run in 1988 — this time as a third-party gadfly — before returning to the Democratic fold in 1992.
So, if Bernie Sanders is indeed the “new McCarthy”, we can look forward to the Vermont senator going at it again in 2020, 2024, 2036, and 2040.
Just in time to get in the middle of the duel between George P. Bush and Chelsea Clinton.
Unless he decides to go home to Vermont and, like the late Burt Shavitz, mind his own bee’s wax . . .