Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wall Street Protests: Back to the Future?

Mushrooming from lower Manhattan, the inchoate backlash brings expectable reactions in Washington from Democratic cheerleading to GOP hypocrisy.

As Eric Cantor calls protesters “a mob...pitting Americans against Americans,” Nancy Pelosi reminds the Tea Party toad, “I didn’t hear him say anything when the Tea Party was out demonstrating, actually spitting on members of Congress right here in the Capitol, and he and his colleagues were putting signs in the windows encouraging them.”

But beyond the usual Washington spitting contests, where could all this be heading?

One of the blessings or curses of age is everything is a reminder of something that happened before. Today’s flashback is to “The Greening of America,” a huge best-seller published in 1970.

The New Yorker devoted almost 70 pages to excerpts from a Yale law professor’s screed:

“There is a revolution coming. It will not be like revolutions of the past. It will originate with the individual and with culture, and it will change the political structure only as its final act. It will not require violence to succeed, and it cannot be successfully resisted by violence...

“The logic and necessity of the new generation--and what they are so furiously opposed to--must be seen against a background of what has gone wrong in America. It must be understood in light of the betrayal and loss of the American dream, the rise of the Corporate State of the 1960's, and the way in which that State dominates, exploits, and ultimately destroys both nature and man. Its rationality must be measured against the insanity of existing "reason"--reason that makes impoverishment, dehumanization, and even war appear to be logical and necessary...

“We seem to be living in a society that no one created and that no one wants.”

Coming at the end of the turbulent 1960s, Charles Reich’s book was a runaway best-seller that inspired both adoration on campuses and heavy criticism (Newsweek called it “a scary mush.”)

As a prediction of what may happen now, the history of Reich’s zeitgeist book is not reassuring. It stirred up resistance to the early Nixon years but also failed to head off Watergate.

Looking back, the most promising effect of “The Greening of America” was the spreading of a message, however flawed, of hope and change. Professor Reich himself was a 40-year-old virgin when he wrote it and went on to discover his own homosexuality and made no effort to conceal it.

During that time, Hillary and Bill Clinton were in his Yale classes, and he recalls:

"Hillary was a most exceptional student, the kind the professors rarely get and they cherish when they do...I hardly ever saw Bill Clinton in class.”

When you spread ideas around like acorns, you can never tell what may sprout where.

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