Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, and the Long But Fading Shadow of the 1960s

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Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, and the Long But Fading Shadow of the 1960s

Hanna Rosin has a new Atlantic article plumbing the depths of Clinton-hatred, and it contains this insightful paragraph referring specifically to R. Emmett Tyrell, one of the most prolific Clinton-haters, but applying more generally to the broader phenomenon:

Unlike the nastiest Obama hatred—which is typically rooted in a fear of the Other (black, with an Arabic middle name, product of a mixed marriage)—Clinton disdain had a strange kind of intimacy. It was like hating a sibling who was more popular, more successful, more beloved by your parents—and always getting away with something. Tyrrell felt he knew the Clintons, because he'd gone to college with so many Clinton types: draft dodgers, pot smokers, '60s "brats." They were "the most self-congratulatory generation in the American republic," he tells me. "And it was all based on balderdash! They are weak! The weakest generation in American history!"

I've argued for some time that even though you can trace America's culture war back to the country's founding and through the Civil War, its current incarnation is, at its essence, about the 1960s, when so much of our ruling class came of age. The divides we have now are still between the squares and the cool kids, the buzzcuts and the longhairs, the upright and the pot smokers and, perhaps most importantly, the group that looked on in disgust and envy at the other group that was getting laid and having all the fun.

If you were in that first group back then, you may still be mad, not just for what you missed out on but because so many of the questions people were arguing about back then—civil rights, Vietnam, sexual liberation—have been settled, and your side lost. Many of those people looked at Bill Clinton and saw every hippie they ever wanted to sock in the jaw.

Not that Clinton was actually anything resembling a hippie in the 1960s—his hair may have been a little long, but his eyes were always on his political future, which is why he had that moment of indecision when the joint came around the circle toward him. (A side note: Unlike almost everyone, I've always fully believed Clinton's "I didn't inhale" line. It was the act of a young man who wanted acceptance from those around him but was also worried about the effect it might have on his political future.)

But I think what Rosin mentions about Clinton "always getting away with something" was key to conservatives' feelings about him. He wasn't just a sinner, he was a sinner who knew he could skate away in the end. They always thought they had him, and he always beat them in the end, never paying the price for his transgressions. In the Saturday Night Live special that aired the other day, they excerpted a skit that had a perfect moment, one that embodied why Darrell Hammond's impression of Clinton was so good. After being acquitted by the Senate, he comes out to address the press, and with a little smile says three words: "I. Am. Bulletproof." Then he turns and walks away.

But Hillary Clinton didn't have any of those 1960s sins to get away with. She was even farther from the counter-culture than her future husband. She arrived at college as a "Goldwater girl," and even as she moved leftward politically she was the kind of ambitious yet sensible young woman who would be chosen to give the graduation speech at Wellesley. She wasn't taking drugs and having sex, so it's hard for any reasonable person to despise her for being a hippie.

So that's one attack that doesn't seem like it'll have much power. About half the voting-age population in 2016 will be too young to remember the 1960s, and even for those who weren't there, the idea that Hillary Clinton is some kind of counter-culture rebel will seem absurd. But there are innumerable identities conservatives will put on her; Rosin quotes Matt Continetti, editor of the conservative Washington Free Beacon, saying, "I see her as a high-school teacher I really dislike, who can do you harm but you can still snigger about behind her back." Which is something, I suppose, but it's probably not enough to destroy a presidential campaign.

Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, and the Long But Fading Shadow of the 1960s

Hanna Rosin has a new Atlantic article plumbing the depths of Clinton-hatred, and it contains this insightful paragraph referring specifically to R. Emmett Tyrell, one of the most prolific Clinton-haters, but applying more generally to the broader phenomenon:

Unlike the nastiest Obama hatred—which is typically rooted in a fear of the Other (black, with an Arabic middle name, product of a mixed marriage)—Clinton disdain had a strange kind of intimacy. It was like hating a sibling who was more popular, more successful, more beloved by your parents—and always getting away with something. Tyrrell felt he knew the Clintons, because he'd gone to college with so many Clinton types: draft dodgers, pot smokers, '60s "brats." They were "the most self-congratulatory generation in the American republic," he tells me. "And it was all based on balderdash! They are weak! The weakest generation in American history!"

I've argued for some time that even though you can trace America's culture war back to the country's founding and through the Civil War, its current incarnation is, at its essence, about the 1960s, when so much of our ruling class came of age. The divides we have now are still between the squares and the cool kids, the buzzcuts and the longhairs, the upright and the pot smokers and, perhaps most importantly, the group that looked on in disgust and envy at the other group that was getting laid and having all the fun.

If you were in that first group back then, you may still be mad, not just for what you missed out on but because so many of the questions people were arguing about back then—civil rights, Vietnam, sexual liberation—have been settled, and your side lost. Many of those people looked at Bill Clinton and saw every hippie they ever wanted to sock in the jaw.

Not that Clinton was actually anything resembling a hippie in the 1960s—his hair may have been a little long, but his eyes were always on his political future, which is why he had that moment of indecision when the joint came around the circle toward him. (A side note: Unlike almost everyone, I've always fully believed Clinton's "I didn't inhale" line. It was the act of a young man who wanted acceptance from those around him but was also worried about the effect it might have on his political future.)

But I think what Rosin mentions about Clinton "always getting away with something" was key to conservatives' feelings about him. He wasn't just a sinner, he was a sinner who knew he could skate away in the end. They always thought they had him, and he always beat them in the end, never paying the price for his transgressions. In the Saturday Night Live special that aired the other day, they excerpted a skit that had a perfect moment, one that embodied why Darrell Hammond's impression of Clinton was so good. After being acquitted by the Senate, he comes out to address the press, and with a little smile says three words: "I. Am. Bulletproof." Then he turns and walks away.

But Hillary Clinton didn't have any of those 1960s sins to get away with. She was even farther from the counter-culture than her future husband. She arrived at college as a "Goldwater girl," and even as she moved leftward politically she was the kind of ambitious yet sensible young woman who would be chosen to give the graduation speech at Wellesley. She wasn't taking drugs and having sex, so it's hard for any reasonable person to despise her for being a hippie.

So that's one attack that doesn't seem like it'll have much power. About half the voting-age population in 2016 will be too young to remember the 1960s, and even for those who weren't there, the idea that Hillary Clinton is some kind of counter-culture rebel will seem absurd. But there are innumerable identities conservatives will put on her; Rosin quotes Matt Continetti, editor of the conservative Washington Free Beacon, saying, "I see her as a high-school teacher I really dislike, who can do you harm but you can still snigger about behind her back." Which is something, I suppose, but it's probably not enough to destroy a presidential campaign.