The Counterculture Turns Right (Economically)
THE WORST OF BOTH LIBERALISM & CONSERVATISM
It should not come as a great surprise to find the conservative movement showing signs of strain. Political coalitions do not last forever. The union of anti-Communists and defenders of traditional values (the “social” conservatives) with free-market advocates (the “economic” conservatives) was workable in the decades after World War II. It might not be any longer. And it could be aging hippies, the counterculture wing of the baby boomer generation, who will show us why.
A good number of the old hippies are at a turning point in their lives. They are flirting with becoming Republicans. The question is whether the Republicans will adjust to make room for them. If the party does, it will force traditional conservatives, especially the Catholics among them, onto the horns of a dilemma.
Why this move to the Right by baby boomers once clearly thought to be liberal? And what are its contours? Newsweek reporter Jerry Adler, in a July 31, 1995, cover story, interviewed several of the most financially successful of the group to get a handle on what is going on. He labeled them America’s new “overclass” — baby boomers now solidly into middle age and in control of “an increasing share of the national income.” They are the 1960s counterculture types who became well-paid yuppies in the 1980s and then moved into the ranks of upper management and ownership positions in the 1990s.
What did Adler find? “They don’t like to give money away,” in the words of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. “Politically, this new overclass exists in a state of perplexed tension between its economic interests which lie with the Republicans, and its psychological affinity for the Democrats.” Quite a pickle. While remaining adamantly liberal on abortion, “gay rights,” censorship, and environmental issues, members of the overclass have nonetheless come to appreciate, in the words of Diana Sperrazza, a television news producer vacationing on Nantucket Island when interviewed, that if “you’re making six figures, Republicans aren’t hurting you…. You have a foot in each camp.”
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