Generation’s Ethos Endures : Now mainstream, the old counterculture’s community of diversity will prevail overthe rigid right.

Burt Cohen is assistant Democratic leader of the New Hampshire state Senate

Pat Buchanan and Abbie Hoffman are both right. The two radicals would concur that it isn’t just politics: At the heart of political conflict in mid-’90s America is a wide cultural chasm.

At the 1992 Republican convention, Buchanan conjured up “a cultural war . . . a war for the soul of America.” Twenty-five years earlier, Hoffman wrote optimistically of a “Woodstock Nation,” a new culture affirming community and freedom.

Thus far, we’ve heard only one side in today’s culture debate. The fact is, ‘60s values have shown lasting strength. Once those values are articulated, Buchanan’s far right will not prevail.


On one of candidate Buchanan’s recent visits to New Hampshire, I asked what he had against the baby boom generation. “Nothing,” he said, “many of its finest are named on the Vietnam Wall. It’s just the Woodstock generation.” I said I liked the Woodstock generation. “On that we disagree, my friend,” he replied and ducked quickly into a restaurant.

I and millions of others in 1969 either were there at Woodstock or wanted to be. While it was a remarkably apolitical event, it was cultural. And it was fun, something the stern right apparently can’t stand. Over time, some of us became Republicans, but most of us did not. In our work and in government, in just living our lives, many of my generation have been quietly but effectively making a difference, culturally and politically. Madison Avenue certainly knows we’re here.

The undeniable influence of middle-aged ‘60s kids is the raison d’etre of the fundamentalist right; its agenda is defined by deep-seated fear of us. At the latest Christian Coalition convention, speakers referred to the enemy in beads and sandals. Someone please tell them we don’t look like that anymore. This fear of the unknown binds adherents of the right together, clinging to a rigid set of social parameters they call “values.” The fact is, we’ve got values, good ones, and they work. It is crucial for us, Buchanan’s bad guys, to now hoist our own cultural vision and values up the flagpole.

Since those on the right define themselves in terms of us, let’s do a comparison.

In contrast to their bland Wonder Bread picture of America, we celebrate diversity. The religious right would dictate a narrow Christian Reich America. We coalesce around the tradition of a free market for religion and spirituality. They cling to macho white male dominance and control; we embrace feminism. They talk of family values, yet the Christian Coalition’s publication, “Contract With the American Family,” enables child abuse; the coalition’s “family values” cast out gay family members. We support universal human rights and recognize that what makes a family is love.

The stern right fears artistic expression. We nurture artistic freedom and actively integrate aesthetics into our lives.

While the dumbed-down right mistrusts education, we highly value critical thinking. Right-wing authoritarians demand obedience. We cherish authenticity.


On the environment, the rightists seek a return to the pioneer days of plunder. Our values are earth-centered, and in 25 years, we’ve won great victories. The right hates our successes.

The right remains angry that we fought against the war against Vietnam. Of course, we were right, and today we fight against military welfare, the biggest abuse of our national budget.

In terms of economics, the right pushes profits ber alles. We recognize the concept of social capital, which holds that when all members of society are recognized as essential parts of the whole, we all do better. The right polarizes and isolates people from one another. We cherish our sense of community.

For years, Pat Buchanan has been talking of a domestic war, a religious and cultural jihad, a war against us. The counterculture has certainly not gone away, nor will we. Once consciousness has been raised, it can never be stuffed back down again.

The ‘60s spirit is alive; I’ve seen it in the faces of well-adjusted, successfully functioning members of what Buchanan dismisses as the Woodstock Generation.

I wish Buchanan had stuck around that day in Portsmouth, N.H. I would have told him that we, his hated enemy, are here to stay, thriving and contributing greatly to America. Our values work and work well, my friend.