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The Toronto Star
April 16, 2000, Sunday

A home-brewed pundit of the American right blames society’s decline on the ‘70s

Michael Taube

It is rare to find anyone who still has a neutral opinion about David Frum, journalist, author and conservative pundit. He has been a columnist in Canada for the Toronto Sun and Financial Post, and now appears in the National Post. He has built a successful career in the United States, from a regular column in the Wall Street Journal to his current contributing editor status for the powerful neoconservative magazine The Weekly Standard.

Washington-based Frum is seen as something of a guiding light by many American conservatives, a source of amusement by modern liberals, and as the devil by modern socialists. Put me, as someone who in general shares his position on the political spectrum, among his fans. We’ve never had a drink or meal together, but we have debated a number of political and economic topics through the magic of e-mail.

That confessed, Frum’s How We Got Here is a highly entertaining examination of American society in the ‘70s. For an individual who was all of 10 years of age when the ‘70s began, Frum writes with authority and insight. He examines many of the topical issues of this decade in great depth: Watergate, Roe v. Wade, gay rights, loss of confidence in public officials and institutions, collapse of traditional marriage, challenges to societal norms, and so on.

With sprinkles of chutzpah and a fair amount of source material, Frum presents a solid case for a re-examination of those ‘‘strange, feverish years. " He convincingly argues they had a pivotal yet overlooked impact on the Western world’s subsequent political, economic and social swirl. Unlike the ‘60s, a decade of leftist rage and social unrest, the ‘70s pushed us even further into the sexual revolution, the dumbing down of society and the breakdown of traditional family values, among other things.

How We Got Here attempts to sum up the ‘70s in three simple words—Vietnam, desegregation and inflation. First, the only war the U.S. ever lost taught Americans to use an oppositional style as a substitute for real politics. Second, the successful civil rights movement convinced American society that government wasn’t flawless, and that even the most radical, misguided protests couldn’t be so easily ignored again. Third, the statist economic policies of mid-century America that brought the period of inflation to the ‘70s continues to dismantle its economy.

Frum says members of his generation perceived the ‘70s as a slum of a decade. In his opinion, the death of disco, elimination of bellbottoms and a reduction in the availability of yellow happy face buttons were events to be treasured, not lamented. It took nearly two decades for American society to recover from the decade’s self-indulgence, aided and abetted by the Ronald Reagan presidency in the ‘80s and the emerging Republican majority in the ‘90s.

Most liberals and socialists will probably not care for Frum’s political analysis of the ‘70s. That’s okay; they don’t like his work anyway. But all sides of the political spectrum will be united in interest in How We Got Here by way of nostalgia. Some of us will probably hum along to the tunes of the Village People and reminisce about platform shoes and wide neckties, for better or worse.

Has Frum succeeded in casting the ‘70s in a new light? Various left-wing writers in this country—the likes of Judy Rebick and Naomi Klein—are sure to scoff at Frum’s notion that the ‘60s, the so-called decade of change, really wasn’t. In many ways, though, Frum has succeeded in his ultimate goal—opening up the intellectual discourse on a forgotten, slummish decade. The ‘70s played a major role in breaking down the idealism of pre-World War II society in the U.S., and even had an impact on the baby boomers who now control certain elements of business and pop culture. History hasn’t been recast, but Frum does open eyes to a decade that, he argues convincingly, caused more long-term turmoil than previously thought.

© 2000 The Toronto Star

Visit the How We Got Here webpage



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