In September 1971, John Lennon released what was to become his greatest hit after the breakup of the Beatles. It was the “poetic” expression of the 1960s, the utopian vision that the Beatles and others of their generation came to embrace. “Imagine” envisioned a world free not only of war but also of religion, which Lennon believed to be the root cause of all war. Lennon’s world was a stateless one, where communal man lived without poverty, possessions or conflict. “Imagine all the people, Living life in peace…”
But why imagine? Why not work for the real thing? Indeed, that’s just what the Left’s revolutionary counter-culture movement of the 1960s attempted. President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society promised equality and integration, but deadly race riots ensued in Watts, Cleveland, Newark, Detroit and elsewhere. Erstwhile Harvard professor and LSD guru Timothy Leary advised us to “turn on, tune in, drop out,” while the Summer of Love lured 100,000 hippies to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated.
The Cold War caught fire in Vietnam, where the U.S. death toll would soon reach 58,000. Communist-inspired anti-war protests tore the nation apart, most notably at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The first OPEC oil embargo quadrupled world oil prices, and the economy headed due south. Watergate was but the bitter harvest of a nation already deeply divided and disillusioned.
The fulfillment of Lennon’s dream was thus left to the imagination – a sort of existential leap. Scholars have compared the cultural Left’s post-1960s despair to that of Europe a century-and-a-half before. When the Supreme Reason of the Enlightenment failed to conquer man’s “religious superstitions” and rid the world of war, Enlightenment rationalism gave way to Romanticism. In the Romantic Age, man would imagine the utopian world the Enlightenment failed to produce.
In their own small way, that’s what Democrats have been doing for the past 12 years. Since the Republican Revolution of 1994, when New Gingrich led a renaissance of Reagan conservatism, Democrats have imagined what they would do if they could only return to power. “Imagine what Bill Clinton could have done with a Democrat majority in Congress,” they say. “Imagine now what we could do, even with this terrible George W. Bush in the White House.”
Just what, exactly, are Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi imagining for the 110th Congress? As it turns out, the Democrats’ “New Direction for America” has quite a wish list. Here’s just a sampling of the bills put forward by would-be majority Democrats since 2005.
Charles Rangel (D-NY) proposed the “Crack-Cocaine Equitable Sentencing Act” (HR 2456) to eliminate mandatory sentencing for crack-cocaine convictions. California Barbara Lee (D-CA) put forward the “Justice for the Unprotected against Sexually Transmitted Infections among the Confined and Exposed (JUSTICE) Act” (HR 6083) to permit the distribution of prophylactics in prisons. Another New York Congressman, Jerrold Nadler, proffered the “Antibullying Campaign Act” (HR 3787) to institute a federal-grant program against bullying in schools. In a bit of bullying of her own, the recently retired Cynthia “Slugger” McKinney (D-GA) drew up the “Tupac Shakur Records Release Act of 2006” (HR 4968) to create a special collection of the gangsta rapper’s government records at the National Archives.
On the subject of entitlements, Democrats don’t hold back. Robert Wexler (D-FL) offered the “Social Security Forever Act” (HR 2472) to create a new tax on workers, employers and the self-employed to keep Social Security afloat. John Dingell (D-MI) offered up a pair of bills, the “National Health Insurance Act” (HR 15) and the “Medicare for All Act” (HR 4683), each raising taxes to promote socialized health care. Dingell’s efforts weren’t enough for Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, however, who proposed the bill “To provide for coverage under the Medicare and Medicaid Programs of incontinence undergarments” (HR 1052) for taxpayer-funded adult diapers.
Then there’s Iraq. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), in the spirit of Lennon, offered the “Department of Peace and Nonviolence Act” (HR 3760) to establish a U.S. Department of Peace and Nonviolence to … well, act peacefully and non-violently, we suppose. Jim McGovern (D-MA) didn’t beat around the bush with his “End the War in Iraq Act” (HR 4232), which sought to defund the war in Iraq immediately and force a complete troop withdrawal. Ever angling to put rich kids in their place, the aforementioned Charles Rangel wants his “Universal National Service Act” (HR 4752) obligating U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform two years’ service in the Armed Forces or civilian elements of national defense.
Also in the mix during the past two years were bills to legalize medical marijuana (HR 2087), grant voting rights to ex-cons (HR 663), create a right to unrestricted late-term abortion (HR 5151), and provide gas to the poor at taxpayer expense (HR 3712). Proposed amendments to the Constitution include one guaranteeing equal public education (HJ Res 29) and equal health care (HJ Res 30), as well as constitutional rights to housing (HJ Res 40) and full employment (HJ Res 35).
It’s worth noting that when John Lennon wrote “Imagine,” the 92nd Congress was more firmly in Democrat hands than the 109th Congress is in Republican hands today. Democrats dominated the Senate 54-44 and outweighed the GOP in the House 255-180, a near supermajority. Centrist Republican Richard Nixon did hold the White House, but he was both weakened by the “quagmire” in Vietnam and beleaguered by Woodward and Bernstein at the Washington Post.
Then, Leftist vacillation over Vietnam and outcries over what was claimed to be the Republican owned-and-operated “culture of corruption” following Watergate easily gave Democrats a House supermajority in 1975, 291-144. Add to that their 60 seats in the Senate, and Democrats had a stranglehold on the legislative branch. When Georgia Democrat Jimmy Carter was elected president the following year, he completed the trifecta.
So, freed of quagmires and corruption, what did this Demo troika manage to deliver? Well, there was the “Metric Conversion Act of 1975.” Then, under Carter, entitlement spending began growing at a record pace, even as defense spending crumbled. This compounded economic pressures at a time when unemployment was rampant, and inflation and interest rates were soaring to record highs. The economic indicator known as the Misery Index thus came to epitomize the Carter presidency and economists were forced to invent a new term – “stagflation” – to describe the Carter economy. On the foreign-policy front, the Carter administration’s failure to support a key ally in the Middle East facilitated the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the form of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, leading to the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by Islamic students, and the ensuing 14-month captivity of 52 American hostages.
One again, leftist idealism paradoxically folded in on itself. It wasn’t quite what they had imagined.