March 28, 2013

Andrew Kohut’s illuminating March 24 Outlook commentary, “They won the GOP, but lost America,” misread the late 1960s and early 1970s. Supporters of Gene McCarthy and, four years later, George McGovern did not, in fact, radicalize the Democratic Party’s image, as Mr. Kohut described it. The young people who went “neat and clean for Gene” were not the radicals who offended Middle America. The dynamics of the period were far more complex.

The Vietnam War and a youth revolt against authority produced an antiwar movement split into radical and moderate wings (I was the executive director of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, one of the leading moderate antiwar groups). Some in the radical wing carried Viet Cong flags or burned American flags. TV brought those images into U.S. homes. By 1968, we had a majority against the war and a bigger majority against the war protesters.

Where did the Democratic Party fit? Until McCarthy, and then Robert Kennedy, entered the 1968 primaries and President Lyndon B. Johnson decided not to run again, most Democratic politicians avoided challenging Johnson’s policies. Then, pushed by antiwar moderates, delegates to the Chicago Democratic convention struggled, unsuccessfully, to pass a peace plank — while police beat antiwar demonstrators in the streets. The public supported the police and held animus toward the protesters. Ironically, many Americans lumped together radicals and moderates, equating Democrats with disorder and disloyalty.

Sanford Gottlieb, Kensington

In concluding that “staunch conservatives” are “far beyond the mainstream” in America, pollster Andrew Kohut ignored his own data. The middle of his commentary reported that a rising plurality of people favors “smaller government, fewer services.” This is hardly “beyond the mainstream.” Conclusions that are divorced from data represent exactly the “politicization of news” the author decried.

Jay Kelly Wright, McLean