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Barack Obama would not be possible without the Sixties, Tom Hayden writes in his unique and compelling new book. Obama was conceived because of changing mores on interracial marriage; was electable because of the civil rights movement and voting rights laws; and was successful because of a new social movement that applied participatory democracy online and door to door.
Hayden shows that movements throughout history triumph over Machiavellians, gaining social reforms while leaving both revolutionaries and reactionaries frustrated. Only the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King prevented the Sixties from ending with a progressive presidency propelled into power by social movement activism, Hayden says. But the Sixties did leave a critical print on America, from civil rights laws to the birth of the environmental movement, and forced open the political process to women and people of color. Hayden portrays the Reagan and Bush eras as counter-movements against the Sixties which ultimately failed, and the Obama presidency as a delayed achievement.
Chicago’s Grant Park was consciously chosen for Obama’s 2008 victory celebration, according to campaign manager David Axelrod, to “symbolically overcome the damage done to American idealism forty years before.”
Hayden’s carefully researched history includes formidable, if sometimes forgotten, coverage of Sixties achievements as well as a valuable dateline for activists, journalists and historians as the fiftieth anniversary of every episode of that decade approaches.
While accepting President Obama’s centrist positioning, Hayden reminds the new president that the peace movement was critical to his 2008 victory and only a radical populism will make his economic recovery, green jobs and health care promises come to fruition.