Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997

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Donald Nuechterlein

YEARS 1968 AND 2008: DIFFERENCES OUTWEIGH THE PARALLELS

FEBRUARY 2008

Those Americans who are fifty and older remember vividly the tumult and tragedy that engulfed the country in 1968. It was one of the 20th century's most perilous times in American politics.

The parallels with 2008 are apparent. Both were significant election years in which neither candidate was the incumbent president: both Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon had been a vice president. Then as now, the country was at war, in Vietnam in 1968 and in Iraq and Afghanistan today. In both cases, a new generation of young people was determined to assert greater influence on national politics, the boomer generation in the 1960s and the millennium generation now.

Tom Brokaw's new book, Boom: Voices of the 1960s, offers an especially insightful account of new, radical social forces in America that led to widespread turmoil in 1968. Consider the dramatic events that happened in the first eight months.

In his account of the public's reaction to these stunning events, Tom Brokaw suggests that Nixon's victory in the presidential election that fall was influenced by widespread revulsion against excesses of counter-culture radicals.

1968 does not, however, resemble the political climate in 2008. For example:

If John McCain emerges as the nominee of the Republican Party, voters will have to decide whether their first priority is national security and homeland defense. If the answer is yes, they will select McCain because he has a consistent record in support of the Iraq war and strong national defense.

If Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama is selected as the Democrats' standard bearer, voters will need to decide whether domestic programs such as universal health care and education are their highest priority. Both have pledged to bring the troops home from Iraq and increase domestic spending.

In 1968, when Americans demanded an end to the Vietnam war, both presidential candidates, Nixon and Humphrey, promised to withdraw the troops. Today the story is different, as the surge in troops that President Bush ordered to Iraq last year has greatly improved security there.

Voters will need to decide in November whether to keep troops in Iraq longer to help build a democratic, pro-western state, or abandon the effort and bring the forces home. A repeat of 1968 is a real possibility.

File last modified on Monday, 15-FEB-2008 09:18 PM EST

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