Between the Lines: The election and deja vu

Has anybody else noticed that it’s the 1960s again?
We’re trying to wind down an unpopular war.
The voices of blacks, women and young voters are louder than ever.
Last week, two states approved the use of marijuana just for fun. Three states voted to approve same-sex marriage.
Gays can now serve openly in the military and have increasingly prominent roles in business and government. Wisconsin just elected the first openly gay U.S. senator.
And we’ve now picked a black man twice as president — the first time instead of a Vietnam War hero, the second time instead of the richest white guy in America who still wanted to be president.
It’s not really the 1960s all over again, of course. When most people talk about the Sixties they really mean the 1970s, which were culturally and politically much freer. But that’s another discussion.
Americans today are increasingly comfortable placing power in the hands of people whose views and lifestyles were shaped by that earlier time — when sexual mores, the benefits of good government, and free cultural expression were at the center of many Americans’ everyday lives.
Since that era, our society has spent several decades trying to pull back from whatever happened between the Beatles and disco, between Clean for Gene McCarthy and coming to believe that it was a big lie when the government said it was there to help us.
To get elected, Bill Clinton had to say he was a “new kind of Democrat” and pretend not to have inhaled. Barack Obama ran and has governed as a moderate.
But at last we are getting more comfortable as a country with the concept that you can be politically and socially liberal, yet still be a responsible adult.
You don’t have to figuratively cut your hair to get elected. Nor do you have to pretend that you think all political wisdom resides in the world view of Ronald Reagan.
America is at last ready to let its freak flag fly, albeit in a somewhat restrained and adult fashion.
Vermont has been a leader in this transition for many years.
Thanks to Obamacare, Vermont is positioned to become the first state with single-payer healthcare — the top priority of newly reelected Gov. Peter Shumlin.
Vermont was the first to allow same-sex marriage through a vote of the Legislature. We were one of the first to have a strong female governor in Madeline Kunin. Immigrants, many of them of uncertain legal status, serve a valuable and widely tolerated role in our agricultural economy. Then-Gov. Howard Dean launched a meteoric presidential campaign in 2004 that transplanted liberalism back into the spine of the Democratic Party.
Burlington voted last week to recommend that marijuana be legalized. And then there’s the democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, reelected to the Senate in a cakewalk.
But the political trends are obviously broader than anything happening in Vermont alone.
Nationwide, young voters, Latinos and African-Americans are growing as a percentage of the electorate. And they voted overwhelmingly for the more liberal presidential candidate.
Black voters responded to GOP voter-suppression efforts by waiting in line for hours — to cast their ballots for Obama.
The emerging Latino minority is one of the big stories of the decade.
Mitt Romney pushed a crackdown on illegal immigrants so strict that he predicted they would decide to “self deport.” Latinos made it quite clear how they felt about that idea, by helping to figuratively deport Romney to the Cayman Islands where he can cozy up to his offshore bank accounts.
Women are now a majority of the electorate and they, too, were instrumental in reelecting Obama. In another throwback to the Sixties, one of the most effective get-out-the-women’s-vote videos had, as its soundtrack, a Leslie Gore song called “You Don’t Own Me.”
Perhaps the tide has also turned in the long war against allowing women to make their own reproductive choices.
We reelected a president who is sworn to protect women’s access to abortion. He is likely to appoint a couple of Supreme Court justices at a time when the court seems just one vote away from making abortion illegal.
Offensively ignorant men paid a huge price last week if they happened to be Senate candidates.
Todd Akin lost in Missouri by a huge margin — thanks to his failure to understand that rape is rape is rape, and his publicly stated belief that women who are raped are in less danger of getting pregnant because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Similarly, Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock paid the price for stating that if a woman gets pregnant by being raped, it is God’s will.
The U.S. Senate now has 20 female members, more than any time in history. The leading Democratic presidential contender for 2016 is Hillary Clinton, herself a former senator and the current secretary of state. The leading candidate to replace Clinton at State is a woman, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.
In another delicious twist on the Sixties, Sen. John Kerry — a Vietnam War veteran who made his bones as a vocal critic of that stupid and immoral war — is a leading contender to be the next secretary of defense.
And lest we forget, organized labor proved it is still a potent political force by delivering Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Only time will tell if the 2012 elections were a liberal high water mark — or if they are truly a historic renaissance that portends an even brighter day for tolerance, diversity and a renewed role for government as a popular vehicle for achieving the common good.
But for now it’s déjà vu all over again, and a lot of us are happy to enjoy the ride.
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at www.gregdennis.wordpress.com. Email him at [email protected].

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