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My Wasted Youth

By Frank Gruber

My son Henry attends college in Chicago and he managed to snag a ticket to get inside Grant Park for the celebration Tuesday night of Barack Obama's victory. He called us several times from the scene, and I was pleased he was watching history unfold. He spent Election Day getting out the vote in Indiana, and since Obama only won the state by a few votes, I'm giving Henry some credit for making history, too.

Speaking of history, and Grant Park, the whole thing brought to mind for me and many others 1968 and the Democratic National Convention. I was sixteen and I remember sitting with my dad watching the chaos on TV. We didn't know it then, but before our eyes the New Deal progressive coalition that had accomplished so much for the country was falling apart.

A friend of my parents told me not to worry, that "America would never elect Richard Nixon," but he was wrong.

The fact is that my generation, the baby boomers, blew it. We failed when it came to politics -- not the least because our tantrums so annoyed everyone else. Notwithstanding the number of us, it looks like boomers will only be president for a total of sixteen years, and both of our presidents were failures.

One didn't accomplish what he wanted to do; the other was more successful at getting what he wanted, but his efforts have ended in disaster.

In contrast, the "G.I. generation" -- the one that reached maturity around World War II -- occupied the presidency for 32 years, and, from JFK to the first Bush, accomplished a lot.
It's not like the '60s and the decade's emblematic generation didn't have an impact -- the boomers brought us the culture wars, and "'60s values" have prevailed. The America that elected Barack Obama is vastly different from the America of 50 years ago.

That doesn't mean, as evidenced by Prop. 8, that as new fronts open up there are not new battles to fight. But even in the context of gay rights, just recall the Vice Presidential Debate when Sarah Palin took great pains to say that she supports civil unions for gay couples; who would have predicted that even five years ago?

Americans like their freedoms, whether they are sexual and marital (let's not forget that 50 years ago even divorce was an issue), or the freedom to read and watch what they want, or their civil rights and their equal rights, but when it comes to politics, foreign affairs, the economy, etc., the anti-progressives have had the power these past 40 years, notwithstanding a few Democratic election victories.

Out of the '60s, it was the successors to the losers of the '30s who got themselves back up and tried to undo what liberals had accomplished in the three decades or so during which they generally held power. "Everyone for himself" won out over "all for one and one for all."

But those who believe themselves extreme in defense of liberty tend to take things too far, and it was no accident that when in 2005 George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security, the counter-attack commenced. Senator Obama saw the situation for what it was, and thus was born the "fierce urgency of now."

Anyway, Henry is eighteen now. I told him not to blow it.

* * *

That was quite a thumping Measure T took: 56-42. Not as big a thumping (60-40) as Santa Monica's NIMBYs took in 1994 when they tried to derail the Civic Center Plan, and not as big a thumping as they get whenever Santa Monica College floats a bond issue (the vote on AA was 62-38), but 56-42 is generally considered "landslide" territory in American politics.

Of course the leaders of the RIFT campaign are already whining about losing because of being outspent -- see the comments of Kevin McKeown and Diana Gordon in response to the loss -- but I only began to worry that Measure T would win when the proponents were making the argument that a vote for T was a vote against the rotten out-of-town developers and their filthy lucre. ("OPINION: Leaders React to Prop T Vote," November 5, 2008)

I received a robo-call from Council Member Bobby Shriver to that effect Monday evening, and he was persuasive. He almost had me. Then I recalled that I had received a mailer against T with Sheila Kuehl's smiling face on it, and I remembered that I trust her judgment more than I do his.

The NIMBYs want to have it two ways. On one hand it's all about the residents and how wise they are and how the villainous politicians are always thwarting their will. On the other hand the residents are such gullible simpletons that they fall for a few flashy mailers.

Then the dupes go ahead and reelect the villains.

Could we at least agree for future reference that collecting 10,000 signatures on a petition against bad traffic doesn't mean anything? And when someone appears at a meeting and says that he or she represents "what the residents all believe," might we agree that he or she probably doesn't?

* * *

The big winner in this local election who wasn't on the ballot himself has to have been Santa Monica Planning Commission Chair Terry O'Day. Mr. O'Day was the co-chair of the victorious No on T campaign and (against much skepticism) he was one of the original organizers, along with former Santa Monica Mayor Dennis Zane, of the campaign to put Measure R on the L.A. County ballot.

Measure R is the increase in the sales tax that will fund transportation projects, including extension of the subway to the Westside, and on Tuesday the measure managed to overcome the almost insurmountable obstacle of requiring a two-thirds vote.

The passage of R puts L.A. County in the right financial place at the right time, because there is every indication that the Obama administration will be investing big in infrastructure, and those governments with matching funds should go to the head of the line.

* * *

The local candidate who had the most surprising but not victorious run has to have been Chris Bley. In his independent run for the school board Mr. Bley lost to incumbent José Escarce by less than 1.5 percent of the votes cast. That's an impressive showing for a first time and previously unknown candidate. (Another Clean Sweep for SMRR-Backed Board Candidates," November 6, 2008)

It's also a message to the board members that they have quite a few unhappy constituents.

I'll be taking next week off, and so the next What I Say column will appear November 17.


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