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Batavick: A child of the 1960s defends the decade | COMMENTARY

I am a child of the 1960s. I was a high school freshman when the new decade clicked over. I remember Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” that created a common soundtrack for a rising youth culture and popularized dance crazes and hair fashions.

In high school at Friday night dances I twisted and strolled, Bristol Stomped, and dreamily swayed to “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley and “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers.

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I was scared by “Psycho” and “Rosemary’s Baby” and roared at “Get Smart” and “Laugh-In.” I smiled at the timely satire in “Catch 22” and was appalled at the treatment of Tom in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I remember where I was when Jack Kennedy was shot.

I wore bell bottoms, and my future wife donned miniskirts. We saw the Beatles perform in Philly. Our first car was a used ’64 black Mustang with red interior. We were children of the ’60s.

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I graduated from college in 1967 and in the blink of an eye found myself in olive drab at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, shorn of my Beatles haircut and clutching orders for Vietnam. The Army canceled these when Martin Luther King was assassinated, and the cities erupted in rage and fire. I was put on riot control in Washington, D.C.

While stationed at Ft. Myer, Virginia, I watched plumes of thick black smoke envelop the white temples of Washington as neighborhoods were reduced to ashes. In our first apartment, we burned incense and decorated the walls with large psychedelic flowers.

We attended Nixon’s inauguration with our 5-month-old son on a frigid morning in January, and I later participated in a solemn, night-time march against the Vietnam War, carrying a candle around the White House perimeter. I was still in the Army.

By 1970 I was a bona fide, guaranteed, road tested, man-child baptized in the rich cultural broth of the ’60s. I catalog all the above to establish my street cred and because the ’60s have long been under attack by conservatives and churches. I was there and I want to defend the decade.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr is a powerful warrior for conservatives today.

He established his beachhead in 1995 with “Legal Issues in a New Political Order,” an article in “The Catholic Lawyer,” a publication of St. John’s University. He declared, “It is undeniable that since the mid-1960s, there has been a steady and mounting assault on traditional values. We have lived through thirty years of permissiveness, the sexual revolution, and the drug culture. Moral tradition has given way to moral relativism. There are no objective standards of right and wrong.”

In a 2011 investigation commissioned by Catholic bishops, they blamed sexual abuse by priests on the 1960s and ’70s because of the era’s “drug use and crime, as well as social changes, such as an increase in premarital sex and divorce.” I’m not buying it.

I am a coreligionist of Barr’s and a proud product of 16 years of Catholic education but blaming the ’60s for all of today’s ills is misguided. I’d wager the clergy’s sexual abuse has been going on since the fourth century monastery movement, if not before. The urges and impulses of human nature have not changed over the millennia, and abuse thrives in closed, protected societies. In January we learned of patterns of abuse in the Amish community, following an exposé in “Cosmopolitan.”

There was a lot of silliness in the ’60s, but there was also a strong clarion call for love and peace and the need to chisel off the shackles of Puritanism, corporatism, sexism and racism. That decade nurtured the civil rights movement and women’s liberation; triggered an awareness of our fragile environment; encouraged consumer protections; and paved the way for the LGBTQ community to emerge from the shadows and be protected.

Sure, the crippling drug culture was given an impetus then, but who would want to go back to a segregated society, suffocating paternalism, film censorship boards, laws against gay sex, and divorce courts that trapped women in abusive relationships?

It is sadly ironic that the moralist Barr today defends a president who lied about the threat of a pandemic that’s killed nearly 200,000 Americans; lied and cheated in multiple ways to rig November’s election; gutted environmental regulations impacting clean air and water; and enriched himself by visiting his own properties over 270 times and outrageously charging the Secret Service for rooms and even golf carts while they protected him.

“Moral relativism?” “No objective standards of right and wrong?” Mr. Barr, your conscience is calling on line one.

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Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears every other Friday. Email him at fjbatavick@gmail.com.

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