On this first week after the autumnal equinox, the Golden State bids adieu to the golden anniversary of the fabled “Summer of Love” in San Francisco.
That’s not entirely true. San Francisco’s GLBT History Museum did indeed shutter its “Lavender-Tinted Glasses: A Groovy Gay Look At The Summer Of Love” exhibit this week. But you have another seven months to hop on the local “magic bus” and its two-hour phantasmagorical tour of the town (“transcendental transportation” back to the ’60s, it promises).
Here’s a question: While technology has taken a quantum leap over the past 50 years, what about California’s politics?
Is there a marked improvement at the top of the pyramid? In 1967, Ronald Reagan was a conservative novelty, who became the tip of a spear that eventually carried him to the White House.
Jerry Brown, in 2017, is alternately left and centrist – not a revolutionary destined for the Oval Office, nor much of an ideological spear-carrier other than climate change. His has been a rule of pragmatism more so than passion.
What about California’s senators? In 1967, the tandem was a Hollywood song-and-dance man (Republican George Murphy) whose political career was halted by throat cancer and peace protesters. His colleague, Thomas Kuchel, was a breed of political cat now extinct: a moderate Republican willing to support Medicare and the landmark Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts.
In 2017, Dianne Feinstein learned the hard way that it doesn’t pay to come home and give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt. The odds of Kamala Harris venturing across the aisle? Slim, as long as she’s generating presidential buzz.
Finally, what about the voting public? Fifty years ago, 100,000 people descended upon San Francisco in hopes of establishing a new order. They succeeded in influencing fashion, art and music. But politics?
In 2017, the San Francisco sound isn’t Jefferson Airplane or The Grateful Dead. It’s the Ungrateful Live – progressives lashing out at Feinstein for suggesting the president could succeed with improvement and House Minority Nancy Pelosi for cutting a deal with Trump on immigration.
The band is good at getting attention through their primal screams. Members know how to show up politicians at public events. But will they succeed?
A decade ago, reflecting on the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, actor Peter Coyote, who was an anarchist in Haight-Ashbury in 1967, observed: “If you look at all the political agendas of the 1960s, they basically failed. We didn’t end capitalism. We didn’t end imperialism. We didn’t end racism. Yeah, the war ended. But if you look at the cultural agendas, they all worked.”
Is today’s protest movement destined for the same fate? It’s winning the moment. Pelosi, faced with verbal bullying, shut down a press availability. Harris, with an eye on the White House, walks on eggshells.
But does this movement pass the Coyote test? Will similar observers look back on the left’s antics 40 years from now and declare it a failure?
A suggestion for the angry left: if the goal is to sway Pelosi on thorny matters such as immigration (her detractors want amnesty for all illegal immigrants, not just the Dreamers), public embarrassment isn’t the right currency. Madame Leader built her career on the raising and allocation of campaign cash; she maintains power through her ability to corral votes. Rather that menace Pelosi, the left should find primary challenges to imperil the livelihoods of her most vulnerable pet candidates. Threaten control of her caucus and the left might get the results it wants.
Some protesters would prefer a more raucous gesture. However, it’s smarter politics. If you’re an angry progressive, channel Grace Slick: feed your head, not your fury.
Bill Whalen, a Hoover Institution research fellow, was a speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson, firstname.lastname@example.org.