Per news reports, "thousands" took to the streets today to protest the Iraq War on the third anniversary of its beginning (who can forget Dan Rather's gravid updates on the war, ending with "and now back to basketball," so somberly intoned?). The problem is that the thousands seem to have been but a few hundred or less at each of the many dozens of sites, far fewer than the number who protested the war at the beginning, and far fewer than organizers had told the press to expect.
All this just goes to show that it hasn't been 1968 for, well, about 37 years and three months.
The yearning of the left for a revival of 60s-style protest culture will go unfulfilled for a number of reasons. One is that we will never again see a demographic in this country so skewed to middle-class white teenagers, the products of the baby boom who fueled the antiwar protests. Another is the absence of the draft, which, more than the war itself, was the real source of angst. As long as college students don't need to worry about their own lives being interrupted, they're unlikely to take a day out of spring break revelry to march around the block yelling antiwar slogans.
Of course, the real truth is that the antiwar protests probably had little positive effect anyway. In 1968 both parties nominated candidates with virtually identical positions on the war. By 1972 a true antiwar candidate got a nomination, but he managed to lose the election by a gargantuan margin. The one "victory" of the movement was to persuade Congress in the post-Watergate era to cut off any funding for the South Vietnamese government, consigning it to doom when the North launched its final offensive.
So the effect was there: thousands of South Vietnamese seeking refuge as "boat people" while millions experienced the enslavement of Communist totalitarianism. But who would call it positive?
Unfortunately for the Democrats, this romantic yearning for the idealized 60s continues today to hobble their party's foreign policy, if one can call it that. Aside from Joe Lieberman, no one dare offend the antiwar left. It controls much of the party's money machine, and its voters will stay home or vote for third-party candidates at the least provocation.
Unfortunately for all of us, the 60s antiwar movement continues to influence broader political discussion. By the Ford Administration, Senator Frank Church became the functioning spokesman for the movement. He led in the move to eliminate funding for South Vietnam. But more important for the present, under his leadership the Senate Intelligence Committee initiated the "reforms" that produced the limitations on American intelligence gathering and covert operations that have largely set the stage for today's dysfunctional debate on intelligence gathering versus civil liberties.
We, of course, grant that the protection of civil liberties matters much, even in wartime. However, as long as one side of the issue's debate refuses to believe that there are bad people in the world who can only be restrained by force, and as long as they are more concerned for the theoretical purity of their own government's operations than for its effectiveness in protecting its citizens, we will continue to discuss whether civil liberties are imperiled when the NSA listens to cell phone calls between Khalil in Brooklyn and his Al Qaida contact in Pakistan.
So, leftists, you can keep listening to the classic music of the 60s. But get over your preoccupation with protest movements. It's time to get a haircut and a job.