Accounts of fugitives struggling back from the revolt of the 1960s give the impression they have all gone mainstream. In fact, the flow runs the other way.
The cases of Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Bernadine Dohrn demonstrate that the revolt of the '60s succeeded, and that fact should not be forgotten by the conservative regime that is about to take the reins in Washington.
Abbie Hoffman presents the most revealing case. The leading Yippie of the 1960s was busted on a drug-peddling charge in New York in 1973 and then skipped bail. For the next six years he lived under an alias in Mexico, New Mexico, California and upstate New York. In the latter place, under the name of Barry Freed, he became the leader of a local environmental movement. That endeared him to his neighbors, and even brought him as a witness before a Senate subcommittee.
Hoffman surrendered to authorities two months ago, only the surrender was like Tamerlane riding in triumph through Persepolis. He resumed his identity in a television interview with Barbara Walters. He had already sold his autobiography -- entitled "Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture." The book has been bought by the flicks for $200,000. Though Hoffman still faces drug-peddling charges, he has been released without bail. Judging by the plushness of the welcome mat, he will get off with only a slap on the wrist.
Jerry Rubin is another former Yippie leader. He was convicted of inciting the riot at the 1968 Democratic convention. After the conviction was thrown out on appeal, Rubin moved into the self-help movement -- Esalen, Rolfing, yoga and that sort of thing.
Now he has turned to Wall Street and a job as a securities analyst. "Welcome, Wall Street," he wrote in announcing his new vocation. "Here I come. Let's make millions of dollars together supporting the little companies engaged in social, environmental positivity. Let's rescue American capitalism from overemphasis on huge organizations. Let's make capitalism work for everybody." And that self-promotional junk found a home on the op-ed page of The New York Times.
Most recently there has been the emergence of Bernadine Dohrn, a former leader of the Weather Underground. Dohrn had been charged with assaulting police officers during a demonstration in Chicago on behalf of those on trial for the 1968 riots. In a statement made when she surrendered, Dohrn expressed continued belief in "underground work," accused the U.S. government of "unspeakable crimes" and foresaw new Vietnams in Africa and the Caribbean.
But many news stories featured the middle-class life she led as the mother of two children. Though she still faces the 1969 charges, the judge released her on reduced bail.
What is striking in all three cases is how much American life has adjusted to the radical of yore. All three found it easy to hide out. All latched onto presently acceptable causes -- the environment, small business, the Third World -- in line with past commitments.
Now, as before, the information media were only too glad to be of service. The publishers opened their arms wide. So did the movies, television and the press.
Nor are the communications people out of touch with their audiences. The fact is that over the past 20 years American life has been dramatically transformed. All kinds of sex taboos are down. Rock music -- witness the national mourning for John Lennon -- has become a norm. There is well nigh universal tolerance for drugs. Not only have we elected our first divorced president, but hardly anybody even bothers to comment on the fact. Though the militant activists have gone out of the movement, what was called the Greening of America has continued apace.
The relevance of all this to the Reagan administration may not seem obvious. Reaction against values exalted in the '60s had a lot to do with Gov. Reagan's emerging as a political figure. Right-wing groups that are still battling against radicals (notably the Moral Majority) lent some support in the campaign this year. Undoubtedly some of their causes -- the fights against pornography and easy abortion and school busing -- enjoy majority support.
But those are not truly presidential issues. On major questions, on foreign policy and on the economy, large parts of the country are self-indulgent. It will take extraordinary skill and discrimination for the incoming adminsitration to move American opinion away from a fixation with purely symbolic issues, and toward the real questions where a hard stand is required.