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Blame it on the baby boom.

Here's the current in-joke among the pundits: Why has Bill Clinton had no honeymoon with the mainstream press? Because baby boomers traditionally have their honeymoons before their marriages.

What are we to make of this little quip, now making the rounds of the talk shows? The pundits use it to excuse the glaring discrepancy between the supine sycophancy of the press under Reagan-Bush and its newfound Ninja warrior stance toward Clinton. But the baby-boom "peg" reveals how nervous many of the neocon media are at the prospect of some 1960s values and ideas being legitimized.

As the first President to idolize Elvis Presley and have a favorite Beatle (Paul, I regret to report), Clinton raises generational and class anxieties about baby boomers actually coming into power.

Few generations have been more maligned. During the 1980s, at the height of 1960s-bashing, the media stereotype jelled. Boomers - and we're all alike, of course - were overindulged as children, which led us to become hopelessly self-absorbed and self-centered. We were pathetically naive about the Vietnam war, civil rights, and governmental reform and, in the end, frivolous and superficial in our political commitments. When we didn't get our way, we all decided to become stockbrokers or corporate attorneys. We are, at our core, hypocrites, because we denounced materialism in our youth and then became craven money-grubbers as adults. Culturally, we're bankrupt.

To remind us that all hippies turned into yuppies, This Week with David Brinkley did an entire show on baby boomers, featuring such typical representatives as Bill Gates, the billionaire CEO of Microsoft. Brinkley, George Will, and Sam Donaldson kept emphasizing how rich Gates is, cementing the correlation between baby boomers and avarice unchained.

While interviewing another guest, Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone, Donaldson asserted that Bonfire of the Vanities captured the baby boomer perfectly, "the type that says, |I'm gonna get mine, I know how to do it, and I can beat these old fogies.'" When Wenner suggested that you can't "beat up an entire generation," Donaldson whined, "But you beat up our generation." On a later show, pit bull Donaldson chewed over George Stephanopoulos as if he were raw hamburger; the generational resentments were palpable. The fact that baby boomers are, in general, financially worse off than their predecessors wasn't allowed to taint the "boomer-equals-fat-cat" equation.

Baby-boom bashing often manifested itself as snide, culturally superior commentary on the inaugural festivities. John McLaughlin expressed horror that the parade featured "a reggae band" and, even worse, "the Gay and Lesbian Band of America." Apparently, no barb was too tasteless: Fran Liebowitz quipped in The New York Times, "If you're switching back and forth between the inaugural and the war, you think, where would you rather be less? And you find yourself thinking, well, it's not that bad in Baghdad." I'm sure that's the exact same perspective held by Iraqi mothers who have watched their children die, or by those injured when one of our missiles hit the El Rashid Hotel.

Since much of baby-boom culture is, in fact, kitsch run amok, mockery comes easily. But this mockery disguises the real issue, which is the fear among the pundits that Bill Clinton may shake up class relations and class privilege in America. Culture wars are always class wars, and not a few of the pundits want to be reassured that having Elvis impersonators in the inaugural parade doesn't really mean that the barbarians are at the gates.

The fact that Clinton went to Georgetown, Oxford, and Yale but likes Elvis, Big Macs, and riding on buses has made the pundits uneasy about just what class of person he is anyway. Especially worrisome, in the aftermath of the Zoe Baird case, is that Clinton seems to have unleashed what some have been calling a "new populism," meaning that the public's attitudes toward class prerogatives might actually rebuke the elitism so rampant inside the Washington Beltway.

George Will found the Senate's quick response to the avalanche of anti-Baird phone calls "alarming," but it was Sam Donaldson who really pinpointed the perils of political elites losing their grip on power. "If we don't have a political class, then we can have a bunch of bakers and plumbers and farmers running the Government," he said - and added with sarcasm, "Maybe that would be better."

While Clinton enjoyed virtually no honeymoon with the press, the pundits were falling all over each other in their encomiums to George Bush. Fred Barnes named him "America's greatest lame-duck President," and Donaldson praised the "round of remarkable things" he did in his last few weeks in office. Charles Krauthammer rated Bush "of the first rank" as President for his exploits in Panama and Kuwait, while also crediting him with the reunification of Germany. Juan Williams asserted that "if you look around the world, you have to say that Bush's tenure resulted in the betterment of the human race."

U.S. entry into Somalia was, according to Krauthammer, a "humanitarian gesture, pure and simple" and not, as Sidney Blumenthal of The New Yorker has documented, a calculated effort to redeem his reputation and direct attention away from his scandalous pardons of the Iran-contra gang. And what about those pesky pardons? Krauthammer declared that "Iran-contra is over," and suggested it would be obscene to "hound him into retirement" over something as insignificant as this. Barnes, who apparently has not read the Constitution or the Boland Amendment recently, said there "couldn't have been a cover-up" of Iran-contra because "there was no crime."

These are the same pundits who have called Clinton a hypocrite for sending his daughter to a private school. None of them seemed to notice, as did Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post, the hypocrisy of pundits supporting or defending the position based on whether or not they themselves had sent children to Sidwell. Whatever one thinks of the Clintons' decision, the subtext of much of the criticism was whether the child of a man who dotes on french fries and gravy belongs at such a place.

Susan Douglas, author of "Inventing American Broadcasting," appears in this space every month.
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Title Annotation:Pundit Watch - criticizing Bill Clinton
Author:Douglas, Susan
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Column
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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