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Reviews Full-Length Reviews Blood of the Liberals by George Packer Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 406 pages, hardcover, $26.00 "l ? the universe is wiggly," Alan Watts said in the endearingly "I'm Okay -L You're Okay"language ofthe seventies, and posters to that effect were sold in coUege bookstores. In 1973, the economy reversed field and we entered a phase the baby boom had never seen before: liberal issues played out, gas prices out the roof, the job scramble on with an air of desperation, wages in decline at a rate that would continue for a generation. In Blood of the Liberals, George Packer presents his embracing, humane lament on the evolution of liberalism in the wiggly 1900s, tracing the experience of his family and culminating with his own. This graceful and affecting personal memoir and insightful poUtical history recaUs Packer's maternal grandfather, George Huddleston, aJeffersonian democrat who represented Birmingham, Alabama in the early 1900s and found himself later in his career perceived as the racist Birmingham status quo and defeated by the left. Packer then recaUs his own father, Herbert, a genuine liberal and coUege professor who suddenly found himself a university administrator at Stanford during the 1960s meltdown. Forthrightly the author documents how his forefathers' humane liberal positions were lost in a storm at the sociopoUtical ground zeros oftheir times despite the purity of their views and the gallantry with which they articulated and held to them. FinaUy, Packer remembers his own journey, growing up in the Uberai tradition of his grandfather and father—or trying to—despite how the universe (or at least the United States) was fragmenting and diluting the traditional 235 236Fourth Genre doctrines in the torrent of accelerating change and increasingly complex realities. He recaUs the first time he spotted how the complexity ofan issue nipped at the heels of his liberal idealism: Once during the Boston busing crisis (ofcourse we were for busing; there was only a crisis because there were racists), I asked my mother whether she would allow me to be bused from my relatively goodjunior high school into one of the weaker ones. Probably not, she said—but education meant more to us than to people in South Boston. I choked on this explanation, and perhaps secretly she choked on it, too. One ofthe liberal ideas had run up against a personal prejudice, leaving scrapes on both. ... I had uncovered a serious weakness in our position, yet I went on holding the position. Every reader wiU recaU the day it became necessary to betray ideals in the interest of other ideals, or perhaps to accommodate a contradiction. One way to do it was to sort of squint and just keep going. Another was simply to not notice the problem. I can recall loathing the Vietnam war and believing deeply that it was immoral, and endlessly speaking out to that effect to the point of boring everyone around me. Then, despite aU that, I aUowed myselfto be drafted— which makes me no better than (but at least opposite of) George Bush on this issue—Bush having favored the war and strongly advocated service but then, despite aU ofthat, opting for the rich boys' dodge when it came to service himself. Facing up to one's successes and failures and judging them according to one's own high standards and ideals can be a discouraging enterprise. In this era, ifyou ever happened in your ideaUstic past to have a feel for moral irony, chances are there's a caUus worn over it by now. Chances are, as Packer points out, that ifyour views were ever Uberai, you stiU believe the war was wrong, stfll ardendy favor preservation ofthe environment, still stand at least in spirit by the tenets of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but by now Uve a fairly good life in a distant, separate (perhaps gated) community, economicaUy segregated from the help and with your kids in private school. You're making a good retirement for yourselfby investing in companies that make a profit (for you, it might be said) by using children in far-east sweatshops for labor or by investing in BiU Gates's...


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pp. 235-237
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