Saturday, October 4, 2008

Talkin' 'bout their generation

Last week my wife got an email from Orrin. You know, Orrin Hatch rabid right-winger from Utah. She gets a lot of emails from his these days - she's apparently his new BFF.

This one was tagged "Hanoi Jane" and warned her that "Hanoi Jane is out stumping for liberal Democratic senate candidates." She - and they - must be stopped.

Poor Orrin, I thought, this is the best you can do? Hanoi Jane? Who remembers Hanoi Jane anymore? Who cares? More people probably remember Jane Fonda for that old exercise video than for her politics. The whole thing had the whiff of desperation.

Then I pick up the Times this morning (why, I don't know) and the lead story is about Obama's having crossed paths with Bill Ayers. You know, the guy who founded the Weathermen and spent a decade living underground.

Fewer people remember Bill Ayers -or the Weather Underground for that matter - than remember Hanoi Jane (and in the great sweep of American history both are about as trivial) but the Times apparently felt this was the most important story we needed to know here in 2008.

On September 12, 2001 a wise friend of mine said to me: Well, at least the 1960s will finally be over - this means we have to move on from that into a new world.

Sadly, he was wrong. The last seven years have been nothing if not a re-hash of the politics of Vietnam. McSame has made his years as a POW a central part of his campaign - asked recently about the health care crisis, he responded that he didn't have any health care in prison.

Obama, of course, post-dates the 1960s. He was about 8 in 1968 so he doesn't have a personal connection to (or perhaps any stake in) the tired political fights of that era. And so it is that Orrin Hatch dredges up "Hanoi Jane" and the Times resurrects Bill Ayers. The babyboomers in the media and elsewhere want to continue fighting those fights, and they need to link Obama to them somehow, however absurdly. You could tell how good it made BFF Orrin feel to use the phrase "Hanoi Jane" - like a smoker who hasn't had a puff in a while taking a long, slow drag.

I was 2 when the Democratic convention in Chicago exploded in 1968. My memories of it are foggy, but I don't recall that people spent too much time re-visiting the political intrigues of 1928. I don't think the ghost of Al Smith visited the scene very often. Yet here we are forty years after all that and people won't let go. I suspect that political debates in 1968 focused on the chaotic present and the uncertain future; in 2008 we keep one nostalgic eye firmly on the past.