OK, Now What?

The national capital is undergoing flashbacks to the ’60s and ’70s. This is not good, especially for the people who were around then.

Over the weekend, there was a big peace march and antiwar demonstration. The events had it all: chanting, Joan Baez, face paint, bad words for the president — “liar” being about the most charitable _ signs ranging from the clever, “Make Levees, Not War,” to the inscrutable, like the Buddhists’ “May all beings be safe and free from anger, fear, greed, dilution and ill being.” Don’t want no dilution in this town.

The technical problem endemic to all antiwar demonstrations is that once you’ve said “Stop the war!,” you’ve pretty much exhausted your message, and there are still several hours left to fill in the demonstration.

Still, the speakers made up in repetition what they lacked in coherence, and while they fell short of the anger of the anti-Vietnam War demonstrators, who had more years to simmer, they were fast approaching them in self-righteousness.

There was heavy representation from committees that featured “peace,” “justice” and “equality” in their names, while over at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, where protesters were denouncing whatever bad things the finance geeks were up to, “imperialism” and “racism” were making kind of a blast-from-the past reappearance.

Except for the cars, it could have been 1968 or ’72. Even the music was the same, except this time around the Rolling Stones were being heard on Ameriquest mortgage commercials instead of the boom boxes of shaggy hippies.

On Monday, “peace mom” Cindy Sheehan, who makes an older generation long for Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin because at least they were funny and entertaining, was arrested for a sit-in _ remember those? _ in front of the White House.

She wants a meeting with President Bush in order to tell him _ altogether now _ “Stop the war!,” after which they’ll presumably kick back and talk about the pennant race.

Whatever the flashbacks outside the White House, they were worse in the inside, where George W. Bush seemed to have reincarnated as some weird combination of Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter.

Like LBJ, Bush was promising to attack great problems by spending “whatever it takes” _ in Bush’s case, the problem of one city, New Orleans; in LBJ’s case, the problems of all cities. Bush helpfully added to the legacy of the Great Society by getting a prescription-drug benefit passed that, even before it takes effect, we already can’t afford, very much like Medicare.

The really scary part was that, as the nation faced rising gas prices and the prospect of shortages, Bush began to talk like Carter. And if it hadn’t been so hot, he might even have appeared in a dowdy cardigan.

Bush urged the nation to avoid nonessential travel, to carpool and take mass transit. The White House staff was reminded to turn off lights, computers, printers and copiers at the end of the day and to share rides.

That caused aging veterans of the ’70s to flashback to this presidential message:

“And I’m asking you for your good and for your nation’s security to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel.”

It was Carter’s notorious 1979 “malaise” speech, in which he found that the American people _ rather to their surprise _ were suffering from a crisis of confidence and will.

Indeed, an ABC News Web site reprinted a version of that address and jokingly said it was the advance text of a speech Bush was going to give in Texas _ and people believed it!

If Bush appears in sideburns and a Nehru jacket, many traumatized survivors of that era will do a very ’60s-’70s thing _ flee to Canada.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)