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New York Post
January 30, 2000

Bill Came Due For Sins Of ‘Seventies

By Rod Dreher

Wasn’t He Great The Other Night?

Bill Clinton, I mean.

Behold the man, so proud and confident at his State of the Union address, trim and glowing and pulling off the surely unprecedented trick of looking more healthy and handsome and altogether fabulous at the end of his presidency than at the beginning.

Barring some unanticipated scandal (with this guy, you never know), Clinton is going out a winner. It boggles the mind.

One year ago, he had been impeached by the House of Representatives. Here was a man all the world knew -- regardless of one’s view on the impeachment question -- as a brazen liar, perjurer, obstructer of justice, serial adulterer and sexual harasser.

We knew him as the commander-in-chief who got oral sex in the Oval Office while on the phone discussing sending American troops into a war zone.

We knew him as the president who sold access to agents from Communist China for campaign contributions.

We knew him as a statesman who would risk his presidency and his marriage not for true love but for an orgasm provided by a zaftig tart from Beverly Hills.

On and on the dishonorable and irrefutable list goes. And yet, it has all been forgotten and forgiven. Liberal columnist Mary McGrory, who chronicled the hideous pageant of Watergate, has called Clinton "our first president to be strengthened by charges of immorality."

Conservatives are left shaking their heads in despair and wondering how Clinton did it. An invaluable new book by David Frum suggests that, given what happened in this country in the 1970s, the Bill Clinton phenomenon was inevitable.

"How We Got Here: The ‘70s -- The Decade that Brought You Modern Life (for Better or Worse)" is a scintillating popular history of the Me Decade, penned by a brilliant observer of the American scene.

Frum is a conservative political essayist. But his book isn’t particularly partisan and barely mentions Clinton.

Frum’s thesis is that the cultural revolution that remade American society occurred not in the hallowed 1960s but in the much-reviled 1970s.

He marshals a boatload of statistics showing that the collapse of faith in institutions -- government, corporations, religion, marriage -- was a ‘70s phenomenon.

In Frum’s persuasive view, that wasn’t wholly a bad thing. Nostalgists of the right forget that the Big Government-Big Business-Big Labor system that arose out of America’s World War II experience reached a terminal crisis point in the corruption scandals, military humiliations and economic disasters of the ‘70s.

Out of this chaos came Ronald Reagan, who restored confidence in the military and freed the economy, sparking the 17-year boom Clinton ballyhooed last week.

Consumers today have vastly more choices -- and better products -- than they did in the ‘70s. This is the "better" of Frum’s subtitle.

But the rebellion did not just overthrow institutions that failed society; it sent everything to the guillotine. Here’s the "worse": "The 1970s blew to smithereens an entire structure of sexual morality."

It might seem that the lurid, freewheeling promiscuity of the ‘70s has subsided, but that’s not true, Frum shows. The sexual revolution has merely been institutionalized.

The ‘70s also ushered in the Era of Feeling Good, when Americans learned from pop psychology that their emotions mattered more than their thoughts and actions. And it became more important to feel good about yourself than to do good.

And so we have Bill Clinton, a "New Democrat" who made nice to the labor unions but never threatened the new economic order that emerged from the morass of the ‘70s.

He is also a president whose sole ideological accomplishment was defending the sexual revolution by protecting abortion at all costs, even if it meant standing firm for infanticide.

And he felt our pain, understanding intuitively that the ‘70s turned our brains to mush. He felt good about himself, too -- there’s no shaming a narcissist -- and so did we.

So the economy’s great, sex is safe from the moralists, and we feel good about this guy: This is how America can look at all Clinton’s high crimes and moral misdemeanors, and share his "What, me worry?" shrug.

"How We Got Here" is historical, not political. Reading it, though, is to come to a glum conclusion: Bill Clinton, the Golden Child, is the leader perfectly symbolic of contemporary America -- for better or worse.

© 2000 New York Post

Visit the How We Got Here webpage

 

 


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