Thursday, November 12, 2009

Youthful Foolishness: Socialism, Obama, and McGovern

I am reading - and enjoying - William Oddie's Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy. I can only read it in chunks - too many other things going on, but it is well worth it.

As a youth, Chesterton briefly came "to see himself as a full-blown, committed socialist," Oddie says. Obviously, GKC later rejected socialism.

My point here is not to argue about Chesterton's flirtation with socialism, or even to reject socialism as did he. But as I read, I thought of all the young people drinking the Obama Kool-Aid last year. They, like Chesterton, were caught up in a movement, a bright vision of a way to create a better world.

Hopefully, they will realize as they grow wiser that President Obama is simply a politician, albeit a charming one, who tapped into the poetry of youthful enthusiasm, but who is already getting caught up in the prose of actually trying to govern. They may even come to see that some of the things he actually advocates -as opposed to the bright, "hopeful,"media-hyped image that too many embraced - are not morally acceptable or even prudent.

I was caught up in such a movement in my youth. Back in 1972, faced with the Vietnam War and the questionable actions of the Nixon administration, I plunged whole hog into the Presidential campaign of Senator George McGovern. As a Junior and then a Senior in high school I worked long hours at the McGovern headquarters, manning phones, typing, and heading out to campaign in neighborhoods. I can remember studying for my Trigonometry final while standing outside a polling place.

My rose-colored glasses began to fall away when he ditched Eagleton as his VP, and as our "hope" for victory rapidly disappeared in the long weeks of September and October. Still, I stuck with the campaign to the end. And the day after the election, having kept up with developments at a certain hotel in Washington and the digging of some reporters at the Washington Post, I told my father with prescient youthful bravado that Nixon would not last out the term.

If I were the person I am now, with the knowledge I have now, I would not have been caught up in McGovern's youth-fueled movement. But I was 16/17. Young and naive. Like so many of the Obama supporters now. And like Chesterton when it came to socialism.

Fortunately, like Chesterton, I found a true answer to the world's ills in faith and the use of common sense.


Maolsheachlann said...

My guess would be that most Chesterton fans were socialists in their youth. Sometimes I think the prevalence of socialism amongst young people (when it isn't mere rebellion against the previous generation) comes from an exaggeration of the powers and evils of business (and big business in particular). I can remember myself, in my late teens and early twenties, thinking that all the abuses of a statist system would be as nothing to the nightmare of aun untrammeled free market. Perhaps it's because young people, and college students, haven't really been exposed to working life and rarely have much money, and so see all property and enterprise as the enemy. The irony is, young people are often called starry-eyed, but I think their radicalism often comes more from unrealistic pessimism than crazy optimism. (Always remembering that an optimist is a man who looks after your eyes and a pesimmist is a man who looks after your feet.) Looking forward to reading the book!

Maolsheachlann said...

Me again...just a shameless plug for a (vaguely) similar post on my own Chesterton blog, the Irish Chestertonian