Op-Ed: Hippies, Tea Party, Progressives create divided politics

Posted Feb 18, 2015 by Carol Forsloff
Several years ago a New York Times article compared the Tea Party with the New Left and the hippies, but are there really parallels for the politics today?
Female demonstrator offers flower to military police officer (10/21/1967).
Female demonstrator offers flower to military police officer (10/21/1967).
File photo: Dept of Defense
The hippie movement called out to the young and the free, the poetic madness that gripped the 1960's at a time when it was revolutionary to burn a bra, rip up a flag or say, "No, I won't go" to Vietnam.
The hippies were rebels of a certain period, the type that flaunted the sexual revolution, the new drug craze, music and poetry, and combined them all in a defiance of authority and tradition.
The Times article of several years ago looked mostly at the superficial parallels of social rebellion to make its comparisons. The Tea Party is viewed as representing an era of being left out, the Wal-Mart shop taking the place of street corners and smoke-filled coffee dens where endless poetry and semi-political debates took place.
This is what David Brooks said in his op-ed piece called the Wal-Mart Hippies, "Members of both movements have a problem with authority. Both have a mostly negative agenda: destroy the corrupt structures; defeat the establishment. Like the New Left, the Tea Party movement has no clear set of plans for what to do beyond the golden moment of personal liberation, when the federal leviathan is brought low."
Brooks tells us, however, his comparisons are not like comparing Glenn Beck to Abbie Hoffman, as both seemed to disappear following their personal faux pas that led them to be dismissed from public view, at least dismissed from being the out-front spokesmen that they were. Brooks says that whereas he agrees there are similarities between the hippies and the Tea Party folks, the comparison is better made between the hippies and the New Left or Progressive Movement. He says both groups "don't seek to form a counter-establishment because they don't believe in establishments or in authority structures. They believe in the spontaneous uprising of participatory democracy."
Having straddled the hippie and Tea Party eras, and being of a certain age, this journalist looks at both to see those parallels in the light of 2015, a few years after Brooks' article and those decades when the hippies seemed to find a way to take the Democrats and shake them up a bit.
The hippie movement struggled to make its way among the motley group of Democrats, as motley they had become by the 1960's with factions still waking up to 20th century change and civil rights issues gripping the country. This meant some Democrats continued with their Southern ways, charmingly going about life as if it would stay constant, despite the United States federal government tugging at its side. The hippies said, "Oh no, I won't go" to those who stayed behind, defiantly rebelling against more than parental authority but authority of most kinds.
The extreme of the hippie movement created dissension and suspicion, even as Brooks sees the Charles Manson murders of Roman Polanski's wife and her hippie friends. One could see similar patterns of drugs, violence and defiance of authority. But Manson did not represent the hippie movement any more than the rioters following the Michael Brown shooting, where black and white youth were seen marching against police tactics that allowed for what was deemed the unwarranted shooting of an unarmed teenager by a white policeman. Both Manson and those rioters were not aimless but looking at a way to gain personal control and gain through violence of their own.
The hippies, however, were defined by the peace symbols, the flowers, the flying psychedelic colors and plastic, twisted cylinders, smoke-filled that allowed the users to drift into color-filled sleep where nothing was the aim. And then there was, of course, Abbie Hoffman who formed a group called the Yippies and set off a firestorm at the Democratic convention of 1968. While his antics were condemned in the Chicago Seven trial the following year, nonetheless the aimlessness of the hippie movement, the lack of focus, can be seen in Hoffman's book, written years later, called Revolution for the Hell of It.
The Progressives have that similar pattern, with goals of freedom that seem to drift, and conflict, with personal goals, even while social change might be the expressed and general aim. The goals of saving the environment and refusing to cut down more trees might conflict with one's personal goal of having the house in the suburbs, that sprawls in size far greater than before. And the personal freedom of having the right to abortion conflicts with being against capital punishment and protesting war.
There are also those within the group of Tea Partiers, perhaps Sarah Palin in her political style and Donald Trump and his business one, both of whom have "the hell of it" characteristics in their reap of personal gain. It is a pattern that allows one to say whatever gains attention, for it leads to the money pot, as Abbie Hoffman cleverly describes, but later on as his career began to fade. The hypocrisies within beliefs and among individuals,, however, are much the same as one might see in the Progressives too.
Louisiana is a great example of the Tea Party movement, the old-fashioned South with its white folks smiling broadly in the great meeting halls of members. The stated goal is freedom, with the hue and cry adopted from the rallies of long ago that railed against the Federal government and central banking and later on integration in the schools and Obamacare, as discussed in an article about a political rally. At the same time the State imposes restrictions on personal behaviors like marijuana and abortion, even as gun rights are absolute.
What of those hippies now and where are they today? Some, perhaps most, according to statistics, are now past 65 years of age, with Social Security worries; and the only drugs these people take are the ones prescribed for aches and pains. That is why the Progressives don't want to be identified with them, because they are the parents and the motley crew that could not hold it together against the rising tide of the Federal government. For as some hippies folded into middle class conservative elderly, their children may be the new rebellion of the Progressive type. The Progressives perhaps simply wanted to no part of the aimless wanderings that seemed to lead to personal disruptions, divorce and money concerns the new generations want to avoid. So they called themselves Progressives, and not hippies or liberals, in order to set themselves apart. Yet demographic analyses show they are very much the same in their beliefs, ranting about the Federal government, many now from positions of power of their own. Perhaps they identify more with their grandparents than their parents, with the Progressive Movement of the 1920's and 1930's where the goal was to expose corruption in government. But isn't that what Tea Party people also say they do?
For many of the Progressives and the Tea Party people are affluent people. Some of the hippies joined their ranks, while those who opposed change in the 1960's waited for their turn, then jumped onto the Tea Party train. The problem now is both these groups, with their power of money, education and the cynicism that comes from losing out in earlier years to maintain their social gains, now vie for absolute control of their own ideas. They rail against the Democrats and Republicans as the Old Guard of old political parties, outdated with their ideas and not relevant today.
The consequence is division, both historical and social, that impact both Democrats and Republicans as well as Americans everywhere who discuss politics. Hillary Clinton, wife of former President Clinton and anticipated Presidential candidate for 2016, is that hippie turned Progressive, and Rick Perry, former Governor of Texas and a Tea Party member, holds with pride the symbols of protecting freedom in some ambiguous fashion. And both of them may fail because the drift of symbols and of conscience from the groups who back them make them hard enough to track, for consistency of purpose and of goal.
As for those hippies who simply sat on sidelines, holding peace pipes in their hands, they may be living out their lives in tender gardens, singing still, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" and "We Shall Overcome."