Beads, Flowers, Freedom

I'm reading this new book, Nixonland, and it's really fucking fascinating. It's a portrait of how America changed from the 50s to the 70s, using Nixon's political rise as a structural device, and also asserting that Nixon was the guy who started the conservative movement that has so fucked up our country in the last eight years. The book makes a very persuasive case that without Nixon, there would have been no Reagan and no Dubya, and that Nixon was actually the guy who pioneered the dirty politics that we've come to know as "Rovian." (Believe me, you only THINK you know how dirty Nixon was...)

This book has confirmed a theory of mine, that America has been fighting the same battle for the last forty years, between those who want America to return to the certainties (and racism and sexism and cultural oppression) of the 1950s, and those who want to finally fulfill the social and political promises of the 1960s. That's what Grease and The Rocky Horror Show are both about. And I think that's what the 2008 Presidential election is about.

But this book is also an incredible journey through the politics and culture of America during that wild, disorienting, transitional time. I'm only about a third of the way through, but I feel like now I understand better how tumultuous that time was. Unintentionally, it was the hippie and anti-war movements that allowed Nixon to come to power, with the brilliant bullshit of his "Law and Order" campaign in 1968. It was bullshit, of course, because the federal government has very little to do with "law and order" -- that's almost always a state and local issue. The Constitution doesn't give the federal government much "law and order" power...

But Nixon knew that's what "the great silent majority" wanted, an end to the chaos and upheaval. They just wanted to get back to the 1950s. So that's what he offered them.

And the way Nixon got around his jurisdictional problem was to declare a War on Drugs, which has been under federal jurisdiction since the 1930s when another bullshit artist, Harry Anslinger, convinced the U.S. -- and many other countries -- to outlaw marijuana, jump starting the horrific, misguided, sometimes deadly, and mostly ineffectual War on Drugs, which has resulted in (among other things) a third of African American men being in jail at some point in their lives.

Right now, I've gotten to 1967 in this book, and it's talking about that famous March on the Pentagon, when the hippies put flowers in the barrels of the guns of the National Guardsmen. And the author of this book, Rick Perlstein, makes an incredibly interesting point about that moment -- he writes, "Others placed flowers in the barrels of their guns. On the surface, a gesture of sweetness. Deeper down, for a soldier steeled for grim conflict, just doing his duty, the most unmanning thing imaginable: you are slaves and we are free."

Fuck! That's intense!

And in a sense, that's the whole point of Hair. This hippie tribe has come together to hang out with us, rap a little, and show us The Way. They will show us Great Truths, they will shine harsh light on the bullshit, and they will open wide the Doors of Perception for us. It's up to us whether or not we step through. But underneath it all, the hippies know the truth -- that we (the audience) are slaves in so many ways, to money, to job, to family, to the advertisers, to the drive-thru's, to religion, to school, to the government, to social convention, to political correctness... and the hippies are free.

Wow. Now go smoke some of God's Goofy Green Goodness and try to wrap your mind around that...!

On with the Groovy Revolution!