Kling on 1968

Arnold Kling has posted an article on Tech Central Station in which he characterizes the conventional wisdom of liberals in 1968 and suggests that:

Most people who were liberals in 1968 still are. Liberals. In 1968.

I was an adult and at least a little politically savvy in 1968 and I think that Mr. Kling has some things right and some things wrong. Here are the articles of faith he ascribes to the liberals of 1968:

  1. Anti-Communism was a greater menace than Communism.
  2. The planet could not possibly support the population increases that would take place by the end of the twentieth century.
  3. Conservatives stood in the way of progress for minorities.
  4. Government programs were the best way to lift people out of poverty.
  5. What underdeveloped countries needed were large capital investments, financed by foreign aid from the rich countries.
  6. Inflation was a cost-push phenomenon, requiring government intervention in wage and price setting.
  7. Anyone who is not a liberal must be incorrigibly stupid.

First, it might be helpful if we define our terms. In 1968 leading liberals included Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and Hubert Humphrey. Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley were conservatives. Noam Chomsky was (and still is) a radical. Richard Nixon was a centrist.

George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, and Jesse Helms were all generally considered Southern racists. George Wallace was a Democrat, Jesse Helms had left the Democratic Party to become a Republican in 1960 because he hadn’t had much success running for office as a Democrat, and Strom Thurmond had left the Democratic Party to become a Republican in 1964.

The Republican Party contained liberals e.g. Nelson Rockefeller, John Lindsay. The Democratic Party contained conservatives (although few in prominent positions by 1968). To the best of my knowledge the term “social conservative”, basically a euphemism for “bigot”, was not in use.

Ascribing beliefs 1, 3, or 7 to liberals of the period is a canard. Please produce proof for your claims, Mr. Kling. The anti-Communist consensus was wavering and would be a thing of the past by 1972 but was still in place; the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had been passed by a coalition of conservatives, moderates, and (mostly north-eastern) liberals. Barry Goldwater voted against it; Ev Dirksen voted for it.

I think ascribing beliefs 2, 4, and 5 to liberals is fair.

Belief 6 was a mainstream view. Richard Nixon believed it: remember his price controls? Several of my economics professors (New Deal Democrats) believed it.

I never once heard any liberal say that conservatives were stupid. Contrariwise, over the years I’ve heard all too many Democrats refer to Republicans as “evil” but never “stupid”.

Some of the “stupid” thing probably stems from the disdain that Ivy League-educated North-Easterners had/have for Southerners. They confuse credentials with brains. It’s a common mistake.

Here’s where I agree with Mr. Kling: too many of the student radicals of 1968 stopped being students but didn’t stop being radicals.

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