There was a sudden great changing of subject. And doubtless there have been many such sudden changings of subject in subsequent interviews with subsequent interviewers who just happened to know something about socialized medicine, voluntary service of a mandatory nature, random shuffling of government bureaucracies, incoherent foreign policy, gays in the military, peace in the Middle East, and the rest of the issues, policies, and programs of an eventful Administration during which nothing much was accomplished.
Maybe Clinton really didn't inhale. It was easy, for a moment, while he was hurriedly changing the subject, to picture him cross-legged in a circle of graduate students, making narclike fake sucking noises and hurriedly passing the joint. But it is wrong to doubt Clinton's sixties bona fides. He is one of us; in fact, he is a perfectly fitting first-President-of-our-generation one of us. The noise, sex, and dope smoke of the sixties are what is remembered, but mind-numbing earnestness and self-congratulatory sincerity were the true hallmarks of the era. (Think George Harrison.) And who, ever, is more earnest and more sincere than our own band geek? Clinton can grok. He puts a warm and guileless lock on your eyes, responds to your every gesture and expression, and concentrates so intently on you that you just know he's caring in his innermost being and you're sharing in his innermost thoughts.
The problem, it seemed to me on that day, was that Clinton is a little haphazard at picking what to care about and whom to share it with. (This turned out to be, as insights go, an understatement.) He had made an unlucky Vulcan mind-meld with me on the subject of Bangladesh. And then he turned to Hunter Thompson, of all people, and said with wholehearted fervor, "We're going to put one hundred thousand new police officers on the street."
I was up all night persuading Hunter that this was not a personal threat. Well, with Hunter one is going to be up all night anyway. But that was not a cool thing to say to the good Doctor, or a hip thing. Churchill was cooler than that. FDR was hipper. And if they had made this mistake, they would have noticed, and would have bowled for the spare. Churchill would have bought drinks until dawn. FDR would have swapped cigarette holders and let Hunter play with his wheelchair. Clinton went home to the governor's mansion, probably to check polling data.
And yet, we told ourselves, electing any member of the sixties generation to the presidency would mean a (dared we say it?) revolution—plus a big difference in who got invited to perform at the White House. Wings was better than nothing.
Politics would never be the same. Our generation was too cool to get involved in the grubby little squabbles of partisan bickering. We were too hip to spend all our time thinking about Squaresville economics, too above-it-all for endless logrolling, highbinding, and petty graft. For sure we wouldn't send troops off to someplace we'd never heard of for no discernible reason. And with our healthy lack of inhibitions and our sexually liberated attitudes, we would certainly not have an Administration remembered mainly for the kind of twisted and repressed behavior in which our parents indulged, culminating in some sordid dad-with-the-baby-sitter scene that caused an ugly divorce—or, rather, a lack of an ugly divorce, because our parents were members of the fifties generation, so they stayed together without ever speaking another civil word to each other, for the sake of the kid and also so that the family business didn't have to be busted up.
There'd be none of that. What's more, by 1996, or 2000 at the latest, all presidential candidates would be members of the sixties generation. And then everything would be hip and cool.
P. J. O'Rourke is a writer for Rolling Stone. His most recent book is Eat the Rich (1998).
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