Like 1968, 2008 could decide the direction of American politics for decades to come.
The parallels are striking--a President leaving office with an unpopular war still going on, long-standing social issues to be resolved and cultural changes breaking up what had seemed to be a consensus among previous generations.
Back then, there was Vietnam instead of Iraq, racial and gender equality rather than illegal immigration, and hippies, campus revolts and sexual revolution in place of today's faith-based conflicts over public regulation of private behavior.
The 1960s started with Kennedy's new frontier and ended with Nixon's Silent Majority. Decades of Democratic dominance gave way to Republican rule. Now, Bush's compassionate conservatism is ending and will lead to what?
For most of our history, Americans have been protected from violent change by a double-edged inertia that was slow to correct injustices but was a buffer against the kind of social breakdown that afflicts almost all other nations.
How much of our tranquility was based on technology or the lack of it? In the 1960s, television made the poor, oppressed and victims of war visible for the first time, bringing them into history and American living rooms. Vietnam and racial violence were not confined to impersonal newspaper headlines, and the results were protest and upheaval across the country.
Now, a flood of images and information about terrorism, war and their consequences washes over us 24/7 on cable and online. Politicians are less free to soothe or distract us from our own reactions and opinions.
But as the chaos of this campaign so far illustrates, the results may be division, confusion and uncertainty about whom to trust with the power to make sense of it all and get us back on track. The more we talk, it seems, the more polarized we become. But somebody has to be President and work with a Congress we choose to lead us out of all this.
In 1968, we picked Richard Nixon. In 2008, we will have to do better than that.