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I lived through the sixties, how about you?
I was married with two children born in 1960 and 1962. I held an infant on my lap while following televised developments in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 during the Kennedy Administration. It was a crazy decade. I went back to school in the early 70s, completing junior college before transferring to Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minn. where students were still feeling the aftershock of the 60s. Marijuana was readily available on campus, and we continued to endure a few bomb scares.
Although the U.S. economy was doing pretty well back then, Robert Samuelson finds parallels between the 60s and the current era:
WASHINGTON -- We are, it's said, now living through the most wrenching period since the end of World War II. Unemployment has exceeded 9 percent for 20 months, and it's unclear when it will decisively decline. Americans' faith in the future has been shaken; a recent Gallup poll finds that only one in seven thinks it "very likely" that today's children will "have a better life than their parents." The feelings and facts are genuine, but the conclusion amounts to historical amnesia. At least one other period rivals the present for its disillusion and contentiousness -- the 1960s.
At first blush, the comparison seems absurd. The Sixties were nothing if not prosperous. The economy expanded for a then-record 106 months; by 1969, the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent. For job seekers, it was paradise. "I didn't look for a job, the job looked for me," recalls political scientist Alan Wolfe of Boston College, who received his Ph.D. in 1967. That applied to almost anyone wanting work. Now, graduating Ph.D.'s face "horrendous" prospects, notes Wolfe, as do most job seekers.
But a strictly economic focus misses broader political and psychological parallels. What frightens people today is that we've experienced setbacks that were so completely unpredicted and unimagined (financial panic, major bank failures, General Motors' bankruptcy, huge budget deficits, collapsed housing values) that they raise dark doubts about our institutions and leaders. The political order seems unequal to the challenges. The stridency of debate reflects fears that one political crowd or the other will yank the country in a disastrous direction.
Precisely the same sort of breakdown occurred in the Sixties, and although the causes were very different, the consequences as measured by public divisiveness and anxieties were as great or greater. "The country was more divided than at any time since 1861, just before the Civil War," says historian Allen Matusow of Rice University, author of the acclaimed Sixties' history "The Unraveling of America."