In December 1964, a Silver Age of American liberalism, to rival the Golden Age of FDR and the New Deal, seemed to be upon us.
Barry Goldwater had been crushed in a 44-state landslide and the GOP reduced to half the size of the Democratic Party, with but 140 seats in the House and 32 in the Senate.
The Supreme Court of Chief Justice Earl Warren, the most liberal in history, was on a roll, and LBJ was virtually unopposed as he went about ramming his Great Society through Congress.
The left had it all. But then they blew it, beginning at Berkeley.
Protests, sit-ins, the holding of cops hostage in patrol cars — went on for weeks to force the University of California, Berkeley, to grant “free speech,” and then “filthy speech” rights everywhere on campus.
Students postured as revolutionaries at the barricades, and the Academic Senate, consisting of all tenured faculty, voted 824-115 to support all Free Speech Movement demands, while cravenly declining to vote to condemn the tactics used.
Middle America saw the students differently — as overprivileged children engaged in a tantrum at the most prestigious school in the finest university system in the freest nation on earth.
Here is how their leader Mario Savio described the prison-like conditions his fellow students had to endure on the Berkeley campus in 1964:
“There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”
To borrow from Oscar Wilde, it takes a heart of stone to read Mario’s wailing — without laughing.