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The 1960s were in full flower when newsman Tom Brokaw wandered among the hippies and runaways in San Francisco, looking "like a narc" in a reporter's coat and tie as he examined the counterculture and its antiwar movement.
But that '60s idealism appears not to have translated into the same kind of antiwar activism against the war in Iraq, he told a crowd at the Kentucky Author Forum at the Kentucky Center last night.
"Something has been lost," he said, sparking some "guilt" and "puzzlement" among some baby boomers about at least one portion of the era's legacy.
The former anchor of NBC Nightly News was in Kentucky to promote his latest book, "BOOM! Voices of the Sixties."
The book compiles reflections from 1960s icons and lesser-known people on the lasting political, cultural and social impacts of that tumultuous period.
During an hourlong interview by Rick Atkinson, a Washington Post writer and Pulitzer-prize-winning author, Brokaw discussed questions such as the legacy of the civil-rights movement, the Vietnam War and how the countercultural movement has changed.
He identifies the '60s somewhat loosely as lasting roughly from President John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963 to President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974.
Many baby boomers who lived in that time "believed they had stopped a war, changed American politics, and liberated the country from the inhibited -- and inhibiting -- sensibilities of their parents," he wrote.
Last night he recounted stories from figures in his book, such as feminist Gloria Steinem, former President Bill Clinton, actor Warren Beatty and singer Joan Baez, about an era that saw everything from LSD to the moon shot to urban riots.
He said that a quote by Clinton sums up how many still think about the impact of that time: "If you thought something good came out of the '60s, you're probably a Democrat; if you thought the '60s were bad, you're probably a Republican."
But Brokaw pointed out that the backlash from middle America against the revolutionary ideals of the '60s helped elect Nixon twice and usher in a majority of Republican presidents since then.
Unlike the Vietnam era, when some returning soldiers were spit on, he said today most antiwar protesters separate the war from the warriors.
But he also said that the government has failed to require more public sacrifice for the war in Iraq, instead creating a gulf between the sacrifice of soldiers' families and the rest of society.
On the subject of race, Brokaw said that despite the progress of the civil-rights era, America hasn't sufficiently addressed the plight of the underclass in inner cities. He said the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans showed that it is a "burning fuse."
He noted that women's rights -- which he said often were abused even within civil-rights and antiwar groups in the '60s -- have improved. He said that if Hillary Clinton doesn't get elected president, it will be because of other issues, not her gender.
"I think the country could elect a woman," he said, noting many other nations have done so.
Brokaw was born in 1940 and was an established broadcast journalist by 1968. He said he attended countercultural events and was covering civil rights and other issues but also was rooted in his 1950s upbringing.
He told personal stories about covering Ronald Reagan's run for governor of California, and covering Bobby Kennedy as he electrified audiences at colleges by saying, "My kid won't have to go to the war, but someone who lives in Watts will."
In the end, Brokaw cited singer Arlo Guthrie to argue that the legacy of the 1960s' battle of ideals is not yet known. Because the time is still controversial, Guthrie had said, it means "no one has lost yet."
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