Armchair Revolution

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Author: Peter Michelson
Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Date: 2005
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 2,154 words

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[(review date 28 July 1973) In the following review of Postwar America: 1945-1971, Michelson praises Zinn's critique of liberalism, but ultimately finds his account of postwar politics a romanticized version of events.]

If it is true, as one wit said, that a liberal is a radical with a wife and two kids, then that tells us a whole lot about the millstone around the neck of American radicalism. Picture the liberal of the last few weeks. He gets home from his $20,000 a year job, kisses his wife, plays ball for 10 minutes with his kids, eats dinner, and then tunes in the PBS "gavel to gavel" rebroadcast of the daily Watergate circus. Somewhat condescendingly and a little self-righteous, he watches Stans, Magruder, Dean & Co. with a faint but distinctive flutter of hope. Maybe, he thinks as he sits and sips his middling good scotch, maybe they will, maybe they can get Him. His fantasies soar: indictment? impeachment? resignation? News flash: Cambodian compromise; the President promises to abide by the Constitution, in 45 days. Thump, back down: a pack of thieves. He sits. He watches. Maybe he writes his congressman. He hopes.

What does he hope for, this right-minded man with a wife, two kids and a mortgage? Does he hope for a society of just and equitable distribution of wealth, for a society where men's minds are not stooped to the grindstone of wage intimidation, for a society where their health needs are guaranteed, for a society free from the manipulation of corporate legerdemain? No, his feet are too much on the ground for such dreams. He merely hopes the thieves will be caught. Less than that even: he hopes that a symbolic thief will be caught. For though he knows that the mechanics of his society demand thievery to ensure both personal "success" and social "progress," he is not so utopian as to think of changing the machinery. His aspiration is for a scapegoat.

That mythical beast is not dead yet. And didn't the President, a pure product of America, somewhat unwittingly call the shot in his April 30th speech when he told us that the Watergate investigation will prove the machinery liberal enough to reform itself? Heads I win, tails you lose. For whether Nixon wins or loses this most celebrated of his mock-epic "crises" will make no real difference to the corrupt operations of our national machinery. Let's allow ourselves for example a hallucinatory moment and suppose that Nixon and Agnew both resign, and a penitent nation then turns to George McGovern, who wins a landslide victory over William Buckley, Jr. in a special interim election. After he stops the bombing in Cambodia, what will he do? Will he dissolve the CIA? Will he nationalize or otherwise delimit the multinational and other corporations who continue to expand the American commercial and military "empire"? Will the economy be controlled? Will the nation's wealth be even a little more equally distributed among its citizens? Will he...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100062920