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The Official Historian of the 1960s

Todd Gitlin died last week at age 79. The New York Times gave him a rave review in the obituary section and on the op-ed page Michelle Goldberg called her column “Requiem for a Liberal Giant.” A more appropriate hed would have been “Kadish for a Closeted Neocon.”

After 911, as the Cheney-Bush Administration was prepping US for supposedly retaliatory invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, Gitlin mocked the peace movement. In a Times op-ed he wrote, “Responsibility for the attacks had, somehow, to lie with American imperialism, because all responsibility has to lie with American imperialism —a perfect echo of the right’s idea that all good powers are and should be somehow American. Intellectuals and activists on the far left could not be troubled much with compassion or defense. Disconnected from Americans who reasonably felt their patriotic selves attacked, they were uncomprehending...”

It’s true, US radicals did not feel that our “patriotic selves” had been attacked. We comprehended that 15 of the 19 desperados who carried out the 911 attacks were from Saudi Arabia, and that the World Trade Center was built by the Rockefellers, owners of Standard Oil. We comprehended that the Pentagon was HQ for the military-industrial complex. To say that leftists had no compassion for the workers in the Twin Towers and their would-be rescuers is a made-up fact and a vile slander.

Gitlin went on: “Long before Sept. 11, this naysaying left had seceded. When Ralph Nader’s Greens equated a Bush presidency with a Gore presidency, they took leave of any practical connection to America.” Al Gore lost in 2000 because he and the Democratic Party would not allow Nader into the Presidential debate. If they had, Nader would have been the intellectual on the left, Bush the ignoramus on the right, and Gore the solid everyman in the center — a winning position. With Nader excluded, Gore was the smartass sighing contemptuously at Bush, an ordinary guy who evoked sympathy for not knowing much about history.

Michelle Goldberg’s requiem ended thus: “The president of S.D.S. in 1963 and 1964, Gitlin eventually became a renowned professor of sociology. He was also a critic, a novelist and a poet — and, to the end, an activist. I spoke to him many times about the failings of various parts of the left, which became one of his great subjects, but I don’t recall him ever seeming embittered.”

Todd Gitlin’s poems

were like ordinary sentences

broken into lines.

He was always glad to hear from Michelle

and other journalists who called

when they needed a quote

from the self-styled sensible left.

Why should he seem embittered, Michelle? The man was a Professor of Journalism and Sociology at Columbia University and chair of the Communications Department. All his drivelous books got published, and “the Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage” —an exercise in self-justification blaming the Weathermen for the demise of SDS— was required reading in US history courses. He was rich, famous and influential, with acolytes positioned throughout the media and Academe.

One of them dissed me not long ago on the Anderson Valley Advertiser website. Last November 14 the NY Times Book Review ran a piece by Gitlin praising “Generation Occupy: Reawakening American Democracy” by a man named Michael Levitin. I noted in the AVA:

“Gitlin himself has written a book praising the Occupy Movement. He agrees with Levitin that Occupy Wall Street was ‘the beginning of the beginning’ of some big Progressive surge. ‘Hundreds of replicas sprouted across the country,’ Gitlin gushed in his review. But hundreds of replicas made zero sense because there’s only one Wall Street where the Masters of the Universe make their plans, and it’s in lower Manhattan. ‘Occupy’ encampments at venues like the plaza adjoining Oakland’s City Hall served no purpose whatsoever, and so the so-called movement was doomed to fritter out. I went over to that plaza a couple of times, listened to the speeches, ran into people I knew, went on a march where I spotted many OPD cops in plainclothes getting overtime pay. Self-styled anarchists in pre-covid masks impressed their girlfriends by breaking plate-glass windows and spray-painting the facades of buildings, forever alienating the small business owners whose insurance undoubtedly went up.”

There soon arrived this comment from Michael Levitin: “What an underqualified and scattershot commentary… You have an axe to grind with Gitlin and the post-Occupy analysis, yet this is the best you can do? This blowhard criticism says nada.” From Google I learned “Michael Levitin is an adjunct professor in journalism at the University of San Francisco. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, TIME, and Newsweek, among other publications.” Also, that he has a Master’s Degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and that “He likes to chop wood on weekends at a cabin in Mendocino.” You can’t imagine how much it hurts to be called “underqualified” by someone with a master’s from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

Local Angle:

In August 2004 Pebbles Trippet and the MMJ Patients Union organized a conference in Fort Bragg. Some 250 people filled the auditorium of the Dana Gray elementary school to hear talks by doctors, users, and law enforcers. The district attorneys of Mendocino and Humboldt Counties, Norm Vroman and Paul Gallegos, came out for defining the legal limit of how much marijuana a patient or caregiver can grow in terms of area (100 square feet), not plant numbers.

Vroman revealed that Ram Dass (who is recovering from a serious stroke and had taken part in the patients’ panel) was his “guru,” and that over the years he has read and re-read everything Ram Dass has written… Antonia Lamb introduced Sheriff Tony Craver with a song composed in his honor that rhymed “cream of the crops” with “cream of the cops.” Craver joked that Norm Vroman was his guru… Gallegos said it was unusual to be in a crowd where nobody thought he was too lenient.

Among the doctors was Carol Woman, MD, a psychiatrist practicing in Albion. She had grown up in Philadelphia, the daughter of Jewish holocaust survivors. At Radcliffe in the early 1960s she had been active in the peace group and was the girlfriend of Ricky Wolff (Harvard ‘63, same as Gitlin and your correspondent). She went to Harvard Med School and in the ‘70s, I’d heard, had become Todd’s second wife. I’d always liked her.

To the audience in Fort Bragg Dr. Wolman said, “I have never been a vociferous marijuana advocate, and have not before spoken publicly about the trials I have endured as a result of carrying out Prop 215. To make a long story short, in January 2001 I was targeted by the Medical Board for investigation because of a letter written to them by the DEA, alleging that I sold drugs to strangers over the phone. This is untrue..

“When I met Dr. Mikuriya over the internet, and started sharing stories with him, I realized that my case is part of a pattern of Medical Board hostility toward MDs who uphold Prop 215. It gave me a new perspective...

“Although the whole process of review and sanctions has been extremely painful and expensive, I refused to be intimidated. I continue to make marijuana available to appropriate patients, and am very grateful to Tony Craver and Norm Vroman for their support and enlightened approach to Prop 215. We are fortunate, here in Mendocino county, that law enforcement understands the medicinal properties of the herb.”

Things sure have a-changed.

After the conference Dr. Wolman and I went out for a beer. I forget the name of the bar, but you could the blood orange sun going down on the Pacific. She told me that when she was Todd’s wife she accompanied him to Tel Aviv, where he was to give a speech. On the morning of the speech she had a raging fever —like 104— and had just gotten word that her parents back in Philly had committed suicide by carbon monoxide in their garage. She told Gitlin she wasn’t up to attending his talk. He insisted that she accompany him. She tried to hold her ground but finally assented. While walking from the hotel to the conference center, she heard Jesus at her side say that He was there to help from then on. He would be there whenever she needed him. I asked if she had turned around to look at him. She said no, but she was sure it was him... I nodded like I believed her and in a way I did. Her Jesus was the good peace-on-earth Jesus.

One Comment

  1. Berkeley to Bald Hills February 22, 2022

    As a student at Cal in the 80s, I sought out Peter Dale Scott’s office hours even though I wasn’t in any of his classes – just to talk about his books and, of course, JFK. But I instinctively avoided Gitlin.

    Later in the 90s I recall picking up a Chronicle and reading that Gitlin was all for Clinton’s bombing of Serbia. The very epitome of left cover.

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