Drinking the Kool Aid

Watching the Republican National Convention, listening to the chants of “drill baby drill” and witnessing the adulation of Governor Sarah Palin over the past week, the phrase that kept popping into my head was “they’re drinking the Kool Aid.”

No, this isn’t going to be a political post. In keeping with our topic of culture, I’m raising a question about language. Have you ever used the phrase, “drinking the Kool Aid” to describe someone blindly following a leader? Do you think about its origins? I’m curious about how words and phrases are sustained over time and across generations.

Perhaps most readers of this blog fall within an age band that vividly remembers the day thirty years ago when Jim Jones and People’s Temple were all over the news. I was a student in San Francisco that dark autumn. Less than two weeks later, Dan White gunned down Harvey Milk and George Moscone in City Hall and it only got darker. After that event, the term “Twinkie Defense” entered the legal and sociological lexicon. What other phrases do we keep using long after we’ve forgotten their origins?

While walking the dog tonight, I heard a erudite speaker on OPB talking about “Movements and Machiavellians.” It turned out to be that great social-activist (and Obama supporter) Tom Hayden. Perhaps that’s what set me off down memory lane.

I guess this is turning out to be a political post after all. I might as well conclude by posting a short clip of a heckuva great political speech that should be mandatory viewing. I'm not ashamed to admit that I well up every time I hear it. Stick with it to the one-minute mark for the payoff.

As background: Mario Savio was a leader of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) at the University of California at Berkeley (my alma mater). The FSM was one of the first, serious student movements in this country. It was born out of the fight for civil rights and was a progenitor of the anti-war movement. On the downside, it also was the nursemaid of Ronald Reagan’s political rise after he campaigned on a promise to “clean up that mess in Berkeley.” The President Kerr to whom Savio refers is Clark Kerr, then the President of UC Berkeley. The University’s Board of Regents fired him after Reagan became governor in 1966 and charged Kerr with being too soft on the protestors. The FBI built huge files on both Savio and Kerr. Wonder why I worry about this election?

Okay. Enough history. Time for you young-uns to tuck into bed while Gramps finishes this drink.


shobiz said...

Hells to the YEAH, Gramps. I may be too young at 37 to remember either Jim Jones or Berkely first hand, but I was fortunate enough to "come of age" in the early 90's, to have the 70's and 80's blindfolds removed while I was in college during that time. That period included Gulf War I, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the USSR, and, despite the ill-fated candidacy of Jerry Brown, the rise of the Clintons and the beginnings of hope for the future, finally. To see that hope unravel once again over the past 8 years (really 14, because you have to count the Gingrich-era congressional takover as the first battle lost) has been utterly heartbreaking and disillusioning to progressives of my generation. Considering how much that reversal damaged my faith in America's ability to recover, I can only imagine it through the eyes of someone who witnessed Savio's speech (one of my favorites of all time). Hearing that polls now show McCain "nearly erasing" Obama's lead, following the lies and theatrics of the RNC and the Sarah Palin Show, has got me thinking anarchist thoughts more than ever. Drinking the Kool-Aid, indeed. If McCain wins, I may move to Guyana just to escape this f-ed up country. For an unusually inspired, honest and passionate rant, if not quite as memorable as Savio's, see this article by Adam McKay. And if you haven't already, contribute to a campaign, convert a waffling family member, join a cause... do something, anything, to prevent the Dark Side from winning.

MightyToyCannon said...


Thanks for the comments and for the link to Adam McKay's rant. I try to remain a bit more optimistic than that, but also shudder with fear that Mr. McKay is right.

One final thing: For the sake of clarity and personal honor, I did not personally witness Mario Savio's speech, because I would have been a wee laddie in 1964. My time at Berkeley started some 14 years later. I did witness plenty of "action" during the anti-Apartheid movement. And when the campus recreation department tried to put a volleyball court on the site of the venerated People's Park, boy did the sparks fly. Admittedly, I was working for The Man as a University administrator at the time (my years there as a student were quiet).

shobiz said...

Sorry, MightyToyCannon, I see now that my sloppy phrasing made it look like I meant YOU witnessed that speech. That wasn't what I inteded. I didn't mean to age you by a decade or more. Apologies... I'm suffering from a wicked head cold and was medicated last night.

What I was trying to do is show how many so-called "Gen-X" folks, such as myself are capable of getting just as fired up as anybody by the anti-establishment rebellion of the sixties, and most of us weren't even there. And yet, I only wish we were witnessing more of that speaking truth to power right now, today.

Regarding the McKay piece: yes, it put a few dents in my optimism, but sometimes I wish some Burgess Meredith-esque boxing coach would show up and slap these pansy Democratic "strategists" - hard - and tell them to FIGHT ferchrissakes! Hit 'em on their weak side! I mean, I don't want to win by fighting dirty, but how's about we stop being afraid to champion liberal values? How's about we stop politely calling McCain a "war hero" every time we're about to criticize his policies? How's about we start talking about tearing down the media monopolies and stringing up the pundits by their short hairs? How's about we burn down K Street?! Where's this "Angry Left" we keep hearing about?!?!

So, yeah, McKay's article depressed me, because I fear he speaks truth, but it also reminded me how mad as hell I am! If we don't win in November, I may just be ready to throw my body onto the machine, onto the levers and the gears....