Failures as people: millions of Americans felt that this description fit them to a T. Seeking a solution, any solution, they eagerly forked over their cash to any huckster who promised release, the quicker and more effortlessly the better: therapies like “bioenergetics” (“The Revolutionary Therapy That Uses the Language of the Body to Heal the Problems of the Mind”); Primal Scream (which held that when patients shrieked in a therapist’s office, childhood trauma could be reexperienced, then released; John Lennon and James Earl Jones were fans); or Transcendental Meditation, which promised that deliverance could come if you merely closed your eyes and chanted a mantra (the “TM” organization sold personal mantras, each supposedly “unique,” to hundreds of thousands of devotees). Or “religions” like the Church Universal and Triumphant, or the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, or “Scientology”—this last one invented by a science fiction writer, reportedly on a bet. Devotees paid cash to be “audited” by practitioners who claimed the power—if, naturally, you paid for enough sessions—to remove “trauma patterns” accreted over the 75 million years that had passed since Xenu, tyrant of the Galactic Confederacy, deposited billions of people on earth next to volcanoes and detonated hydrogen bombs inside those volcanos, thus scattering harming “body thetans” to attach to the souls of the living, which once unlatched allowed practitioners to cross the “bridge to total freedom” and “unlimited creativity.” Another religion, the story had it, promised “perfect knowledge”—though its adherents’ public meeting was held up several hours because none of them knew how to run the movie projector. Gallup reported that six million Americans had tried TM, five million had twisted themselves into yoga poses, and two million had sampled some sort of Oriental religion. And hundreds of thousands of Americans in eleven cities had plunked down $250 for the privilege being screamed at as “assholes.” “est”—Erhard Seminars Training, named after the only-in-America hustler who invented it, Werner Erhard, originally Jack Rosenberg, a former used-car and encyclopedia salesman who had tried and failed to join the Marines (this was not incidental) at the age of seventeen, and experienced a spiritual rebirth one morning while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge (“I realized that I knew nothing. . . . In the next instant—after I realized that I knew nothing—I realized that I knew everything”)—promised “to transform one’s ability to experience living so that the situations one had been trying to change or had been putting up with, clear up just in the process of life itself,” all that in just sixty hours, courtesy of a for-profit corporation whose president had been general manager of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of California and a former member of the Harvard Business School faculty. A
But they could be frightening, too. “Watching Watergate in Archie Bunker Country,” said the cover of the June 18 issue of New York magazine. It began with the author, top-drawer trend journalist Gail Sheehy, recording what happened when the proprietor of Terry’s Bar in Astoria, Queens, asked his patrons if he might tune the bar’s TV to the hearings. Nine men cried “Forget it!” “The majority called for Popeye cartoons. But Terry couldn’t find a channel that wasn’t polluted with the ‘search for unvarnished truth.’ They had no choice. Television was suppressing their freedom not to know.” These ironworkers, sandhogs, elevator operators, and beer truck drivers said things like this: that Ted Kennedy “killed a broad” (“Now there was a mountain, and they made a molehill
Then, on April 7, the bishop for the diocese of the four counties surrounding San Diego, representing some 512,000 Catholics, an activist in the city’s nonsectarian Pro-Life League, announced priests would refuse Holy Communion to any Catholic who “admits publicly” to membership in the National Organization for Women or any other group advocating abortion: “The issue at stake is not only what we do to unborn children but what we do to ourselves by permitting them to be killed.” He called abortion a “serious moral crime” that “ignores God and his love.” NOW proclaimed this year’s Mother’s Day a “Mother’s Day of Outrage”—in response, it said, to the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s “attempt to undermine the right of women to control their own bodies.” The president of Catholics for Free Choice and the Southern California coordinator for NOW’s Human Reproduction Task Force, Jan Gleeson, recently returned from Southeast Asia as an Operation Babylift volunteer, clarified the feminist group’s position: “It opposes compulsory pregnancy and reaffirms a woman’s right to privacy to control her own body as basic to her spiritual, economic, and social well-being.
The Republican Party spent the year of the liberal apotheosis enacting the most unlikely political epic ever told: a right-wing fringe took over the party from the ground up, nominating Barry Goldwater, the radical-right senator from Arizona, while a helpless Eastern establishment-that-was-now-a-fringe looked on in bafflement. Experts, claiming the Republican tradition of progressivism was as much a part of its identity as the elephant, began talking about a party committing suicide. The Goldwaterites didn’t see suicide. They saw redemption. This was part and parcel of their ideology—that Lyndon Johnson’s “consensus” was their enemy in a battle for the survival of civilization. For them, the idea that calamitous liberal nonsense—ready acceptance of federal interference in the economy; Negro “civil disobedience”; the doctrine of “containing” the mortal enemy Communism when conservatives insisted it must be beaten—could be described as a “consensus” at all was symbol and substance of America’s moral rot. They also believed the vast majority of ordinary Americans already agreed with them, whatever spake the polls—“crazy figures,” William F. Buckley harrumphed, doctored “to say, ‘Yes, Mr. President.’” It was their article of faith. And faith, and the uncompromising passions attending it, was key to their political makeup.