Campus unrest and a threatened mass protest at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago are summoning flashbacks to 1968, touching off the irresistible urge to predict a rerun of that year’s Democratic disaster this November. Cooler heads, like Willis Sparks at Gzero Media, note several distinctions between our moment and those that precipitated the late-sixties clash. Which perspective is right? Both are.

While we can make sensible distinctions between then and now—the student protestors of 1968, for example, were rebelling against a war with direct American involvement, and one that was drafting their cohort into arms—those differences recede beneath some deeper and more ominous parallels. The most significant is the radical Left’s success in humbling a Democratic president. In 1968, anti-Vietnam War protests drove Lyndon Johnson from the race, only four years after he had scored one of the largest landslides in American history. Before the protests ended Johnson’s presidency, they changed his war policy. LBJ had steadfastly defended American war aims in Vietnam for most of his tenure, but he announced a bombing halt after entering negotiations with North Vietnam. The North understood that it would eventually win by dragging its feet. “In a sense,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote of Johnson, “he was the first American President to be toppled by a mob. No matter that it was a mob of college professors, millionaires, flower children, and Radcliffe girls.” Johnson’s capitulation didn’t even end the protests, which culminated in the Chicago riot.

A similar sequence is repeating itself today. Though the anti-Israel protests won’t drive President Joe Biden from the Democratic nomination, they have transformed his war policy. After months of declaring his “ironclad” support for Israel, Biden has suddenly declared an arms embargo against the Jewish state, seeking to forestall its attack on the last Hamas redoubt in Rafah, while offering more ceasefire concessions to Hamas behind Israel’s back. As LBJ’s retreat from American resolve in 1968 emboldened North Vietnam, Biden’s split with Israel will bolster Hamas to demand more concessions for a ceasefire. It might also enable Hezbollah to open a second front in the north.

Many political observers think that Biden declared the arms embargo for domestic political reasons, and there is some truth in this. (A joke making the rounds: Biden’s two-state solution for the Israel-Gaza conflict involves Michigan and Pennsylvania.) But independent of electoral politics, Biden has always had dovish instincts. He opposed the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, for example, and dissented from President Obama’s troop surge and counterinsurgency policy in Afghanistan. According to some accounts, Biden considered resigning as vice president over his differences with Obama on the Middle East. His views dating back to the 1970s vindicate the judgment of Robert Gates that Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

Biden’s Israel pivot is also further evidence of liberals’ willingness to indulge the demands of the radical Left. We saw this in 2020 with the respectable Left’s capitulation to the insane demands of Black Lives Matter (“defund the police”), and we’re seeing it now, as liberal college presidents rush to placate anti-Semitic campus mobs. Remarkably, the presidents persist in acknowledging and negotiating with these mobs despite their being largely made up of extremists who do not even represent their student bodies at large, much less the American people.

We know the mobs are unserious, in part, because their demands have swelled far beyond the Gaza conflict to encompass the larger laundry list of “social justice” issues (plus free meals). Here’s another close parallel with 1968: by the time of that year’s Democratic convention in Chicago, the antiwar protesters had expanded their demands to include drug legalization, prison reform, “the total disarmament of all people beginning with the police,” the abolition of money, free birth control, elimination of pollution, and more. At least today’s protesters are into recycling.

And as in 1968, today’s demonstrations are fracturing the Democratic Party and the broader left-of-center coalition. Just as the anti-Vietnam frenzy blunted the momentum of the civil rights movement, today’s anti-Israel encampments and demonstrations have reduced climate change and Black Lives Matter to also-rans in the Democrats’ political agenda. The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation even filed a $33 million lawsuit against the leftist Tides Foundation for allegedly diverting funds away from BLM and to the Gaza protests. Intersectionality at work!

The polls are volatile, but Biden seems to have lost ground he only recently gained; his fortunes changed once the campus protests hit high gear. For the president and his party, it seems that the congenital weakness of American liberalism—its willingness to indulge radicals—has struck again.

Photos: Harvey L. Silver/Corbis via Getty Images (left) / Kent Nishimura/Getty Images (right)


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