Old Glory got hung out to dry yesterday at Columbia University, where the College Democrats marked the 40th anniversary of the 1968 riots by washing and hanging 20 American flags to symbolize 20 things they hate about America. This form of protest is much less destructive than the 1960s variety, and perhaps slightly less banal than setting up pup tents on the campus’s few strips of grass, as was the fashion in the 1980s. So overall, Morningside Heights has seen a lot worse.
The use of flags is evidently meant to convey that, as the head of the College Democrats’ “activist council” explains, “What we’re doing is very patriotic and I think people on this campus are smart enough to figure that out.” Folks elsewhere might have a little more trouble, especially when the group’s media director says: “We need to repair the flag, to bring it back to a point where it is not an edifice of cynicism.” That makes a pretty good litmus test. When conservatives look at the American flag, they see hope and inspiration; when liberals look at it, they see “an edifice of cynicism.” But no problem–it all comes out in the wash.
The episode shows how old-school rioters differed from the “activists” of today. The 1968 mob actually got things done–all bad, of course, but at least they could point to some achievements: The gymnasium they had arbitrarily chosen as a cause never got built, the university president resigned, and the administration of discipline was made so legalistic and time-consuming that punishing protesters has been virtually impossible ever since. Today, by contrast, the activists’ chief concern is making sure everyone knows that they’re against the Iraq war (in case you couldn’t guess). Once that’s made clear, they can get back to their law-school applications. If fabric softener and Cool Whip (vide infra) are the best today’s radicals can muster, it’s the surest sign yet that in the long term, the Establishment really won the Battle of the 1960s–something for which we can all be thankful.