WASHINGTON — What The New York Times did to Hillary Rodham Clinton the other day was very naughty, and the Times did it ON THE FRONT PAGE. It published a picture of her from 1969, in all her 1960s funkiness, smirking out at us all. There she was seated, leaning forward, her knees spread, her nose much wider than it is today, her hair long, with split ends and decidedly unblonde. She wore glasses, each lens the size of a small fish bowl. Her widespread legs were swaddled in day-glo striped bellbottom pants, and propped on her day-glo knees were her elbows, with her palms open and tilted toward all of us. The gesture was clear: “That’s the way the world is, stupid. Dig it.” Along with this ghastly picture there was an excruciatingly long article, interviewing her classmates from late 1960s Wellesley College. Hillary’s “quest” of the presidency is, the Times explained, “a generational mirror. Some like what they see; others are less certain.” Even her 1960s classmates are divided on Hillary.
Another person who surely did not like what he saw, at least in the Times, is Harold Ickes, senior political adviser to the Clinton presidential campaign. He too is a 1960s radical with a middle-aged makeover. Back in the bellbottom days, doubtless he too would have been looking out at America saying, palms open and tilted outward, “That’s the way the world is, stupid. Dig it.” But now his job is to get Hillary through the Democratic primaries and into the 2008 presidential race. Surely he winced when the Times quoted Hillary’s “fiery commencement speech” from 1969, wherein she maundered on about her classmates’ search for a “more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating mode of living.” Get that, she said “penetrating.”
Ickes must have done a lot more wincing as Hillary’s middle-aged former classmates unburdened themselves on Hillary’s post-Wellesley years. Presumably these are the “more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating mode of living” years she prophesied in 1969. Today her classmates give her mixed reviews. One proudly told the Times of Hillary’s “boldness, her boundarylessness.” Another lamented that she may have compromised her “goals” and possibly her “ideals.” “It’s incredibly upsetting,” the woman, a university scientist, concluded. Had I been asked, I would have spoken wistfully of those day-glo bellbottoms.
The premise of the Times article was that “the 1960s still loom large in American politics, providing the underlying text” for much of the 2004 presidential debates. The article went on to mention Hillary’s absorption with the ideas of radical theorist Saul Alinsky when she wrote her senior thesis. Doubtless, Ickes and Hillary’s other advisers are hoping that the 1960s can be kept out of the 2008 race, though the upper echelons of the Democratic Party are populated by 1960s wunderkinds. The 1960s was the decade of the Black Panthers and bombs going off on college campuses, blowing up libraries and ROTC centers. Hillary actually did legal work in defense of the Panthers. Her husband Bill, Sen. John Kerry and Dr. Howard Dean all could have been among the pompous poseurs that Tom Wolfe captured in “Radical Chic.”
Of course the Times’ premise is accurate. The 1960s generation does “loom large,” but it is not the only generation in American politics. There is a younger generation. In the Democratic Party that younger generation has become impatient with 40 years of blah originating in the 1960s. Now a man some two decades younger than the Clintons has emerged to challenge Hillary’s run for the White House. That gives Ickes another reason to cringe. From the Times piece he can see that Hillary’s support even among her peers is wavering. A new generation has arisen to challenge her. And over there in the Republican Party at least Sen. John McCain and former mayor Rudy Giuliani could be formidable candidates, particularly during a time when national security is the major issue. Even now opposition research teams from the Obama campaign and among the Republican candidates are probably researching Hillary’s life in the late 1960s. They are going to come up with hilarious material.