The Starr Report Brings Closure to the Sixties
Herbert London & John M. Olin
It has been argued that the age of innocence at the turn of the century ended with World War I. Similarly, the Vietnam War ended with Watergate. I would argue that the sixties, the era that nurtured the baby boomers, has come to an end with the Starr Report.
For several decades the mythology unfolding from the overheated decade informed American life. There was the Beatles' "All You Need is Love." There was a counterculture that scorned bourgeois values as hopelessly retrograde.
There was the mantra of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. There was Maslowian self-actualization rather than commitment to family and tradition. A politics of production, of results, was replaced by a politics of feelings. ("I feel your pain*") And "I" became the center of all things as judgment itself became a manifestation of narcissism.
These conditions have come home to roost with a vengeance. For the Starr Report tells Americans as much about cultural degradation as Clinton's presidential conduct. It is instructive that the president's apologists argue that private behavior is not as important as his public role, that any critique of Clinton should be evaluated against a backdrop of American Puritanism.
This position is understandable only if one scorns bourgeois values and ignores the symbolic leadership of the president. Who among us doesn't smirk when the president refers to moral guidance?
It is obvious form the Starr Report that a seamless web of deceit has characterized the Clinton presidency. From "I did not have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky," to renting out the Lincoln bedroom, to illegal campaign contributions, and questionable favors for donations to the Democratic Party, the presidency is shameless. But in Clinton's culture of self-fulfillment and narsasetic ambition, shamelessness doesn't count.
Who also but a product of polymorphous perversity would contend that oral sex is not really sex? Who else but a person devoid of bourgeois constraints can lie looking into a television camera one day and then relying on the politics of feelings, tells us that the next day, "I'm sorry I misled you."
Of course none on this is surprising. Clinton also told the American people "I did not inhale," "I was not drafted," "I did not have an affair with Gennifer Flowers" and "I will be the most ethical president in American history." These lies emerged from the falsity of the sixties.
If "all you need is love" principals and ethics may not count for much. If bourgeois life is hypocritical why shouldn't the president indulge his sexual fantasies with a White House intern only a few years older than his daughter. If the self is the core of one's existence, there aren't any boundaries for appropriate behavior except gratification.
What Kenneth Starr had illuminated is the bankruptcy of sixties myths. The walls that sustained sixties culture for the boomers who are now in there forties and fifties have been razed. A "Big Chill" generation is in deep freeze.
The hallucinogenic express that delivered many sixties passengers to Despair Station has been derailed. Sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll have brought Clinton to the eve of destruction. There is nothing for sixties types to rely on but false memories. Even Woodstock is being reevaluated by contemporaries who failed to show up for the anniversary concert.
Clinton doesn't feel your pain. He, like many members of his generation, can feel only personal satisfaction. Starr didn't intend it, but I am persuaded, his report will be a harbinger of national remoralization. Americans are now obliged to ask if the person in whom they offer there trust can be counted on to act responsibly, honorably, trustfully.
From now on presidents will be asked to pass the Clinton test. This may not assure sound judgement, a rejuvenated economy or a nation at peace, but it will give Americans what they deserve - a person at the helm with character.
When critics decry the Starr Report what they are actually saying is that like Pogo they have confronted the enemy and "he is us." Clinton imbibed the views of the sixties decade like so many other Americans. Now it is time to put the sixties to rest along with the Clinton presidency.
Copyright © 1998 by Hudson Institute.