The ’60s vs The ’70s

Andrew Sullivan —  May 9 2011 @ 1:31pm

A reader proposes a new definition for liberals and conservatives:

I just had a revelation that may seem obvious, but I think I now really understand the difference between liberals and conservatives. The former perpetually live in the 1960s, when their ideas seemed to work and were supported by popular movements such as the civil rights movement and the antiwar movement, while the latter live perpetually in the 1970s, when everything they always said would happen under liberal policies—inflation, stagnation, Communist advancement etc—suddenly came true and popular movements such as the anti-tax movement promoted their ideas and even the kookiest among them, such as the gold standard, seemed reasonable under the circumstances.

How can we move both groups into the 1980s and 1990s, when both sides accepted a lot of what was right about what the other side had to say? Reagan raised taxes and accepted the legitimacy of the welfare state, while Clinton accepted the primacy of the free market and gave us budget surpluses. Why is it that the history of 40-50 years ago seems to impact on people’s thinking so much more than the history of 20-30 years ago that ought to be fresher in their minds?