Blue Democrats lost red America
back in 1965. OpinionJournal



Generation Gap
Blue Democrats lost red America back in 1965.

Friday, November 5, 2004 12:01 a.m.

And you tell me over, and over, and over again my friend
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

--Vietnam War Protest Song, 1965

How did the 2004 election map of the United States come to look like a color-field painting by Barnett Newman? In fact, if you adjust the map's colors for votes by county (as at the Web sites for CNN and USA Today), even the blue states turn mostly red. Pennsylvania is blue, but between blue Philadelphia and Pittsburgh every county in the state is red. California, except for the coastline, is almost entirely red.

This didn't happen last Tuesday. The color-coding of the 2004 election began around 1965 in the politics of the Vietnam era. The Democratic Party today is the product of a generational shift that began in those years.

The formative years of the northern wing of the Democratic Old Guard go back to World War II. It included political figures like Tip O'Neill, Pat Moynihan and Lane Kirkland. It was men such as these whose experiences, both political and personal, informed and shaped the Democrats before the mid-'60s.

Over time the party passed into the hands of a generation, now in their 50s and early 60s, whose broad view of America and its politics was formed as young men and women opposing the Vietnam War. That would include the party's current leading lights--John Kerry, Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi. And its most influential strategists, such as Bob Shrum, Mary Beth Cahill and James Carville. The old industrial unions, whose members went over to Ronald Reagan, gave way to the more dependable public-employee unions run by John Sweeney and Gerald McEntee.


These Baby Boomers--the generation of John Kerry, Al Gore and Bill and Hillary Clinton--transformed the world view of the Democrats, on everything from foreign policy to cultural issues. This new ethos--instinctively oppositional, aggressively secular--sank its roots deep on the East and West coasts, but it never really spread into the rest of the country, then or now.

Early on, the military became a focus. Democrats belonging to the World War II generation believed that one "served." There was a nonpartisan pact of reverence for the services. After Vietnam, Democratic partisans worked hard, and successfully, to eradicate ROTC from elite, coastal campuses and to adopt an ethos that no longer revered the services, but held them suspect of doing harm. Bill Clinton's relations with the military were strained. John Kerry tried to use his service biography to erase the Vietnam-era legacy of Democratic opposition to things military. It didn't work.

Expressed emotion matters greatly for this generation. The most notable phenomenon of the 2004 election was widespread liberal "hatred" of George Bush. Many wondered what sleeping volcano brought this lava to the surface. It came from the style of protest politics born in the 1960s. A famous liberal political phrase then was "the personal is political." Letting oneself become emotionally unhinged during a protest, as at Columbia, Harvard and Berkeley, became a litmus of authenticity. It became the norm, and it still is. But again, only for people who scream themselves blue.

Another phrase heard often in the campaign just ended was, "I'm frightened." Admiration for childlike fears in politics received approval in 1970 from Charles Reich's bestseller "The Greening of America," a paean to youth and "a new and liberated individual." Reich's book, by the way, also popularized the notion then that something called the "Corporate State" was blotting out the Aquarian sunshine. This is the mindset that just produced the Democrats' weird obsession with "Halliburton," as if anyone would care beyond the people who were long ago baptized into the blue faith.

But the politics of the Vietnam generation wasn't just about Vietnam. It was about changing everything, most notably the culture. This generation really opened up the culture. The old pre-Vietnam strictures on behavior and comportment--Tip O'Neill's old Boston Catholic world of Mass on Sunday and at least a working if not functioning knowledge of the Baltimore catechism--got hammered down till the moral landscape became flat and fast. Now you can drive anything at all into theaters, music or movies. This post-Vietnam culture of non-restraint, now almost 40 years old, produced Whoopi Goldberg's double-entendre jokes about George Bush's name at Radio City Music Hall, the Massachusetts Supreme Court's sudden decision on gay marriage, and hard-to-defend support for partial-birth abortion.


George Bush, age 58, was a reproach. He personifies everything they have fought since they drove LBJ and Richard Nixon out of politics. And this week they are trying to discover why most of the people who live between the Hudson River and Hollywood Freeway don't agree with them. Expect documentaries soon about Christian evangelicals on the Discovery Channel.

There is no hope that the Vietnam generation braintrust who just lost this election will ever understand Red America. Until someone in the party recognizes this, the tides of demography will inexorably erode the blue islands that remain on the map.
Mr. Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. His column appears Fridays in the Journal and on

Copyright 2004 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Go to: => TOP Page; => American History Library; => Politics Library; => ROAD MAP