Magazine article Insight on the News

Clinton Must Set His Course Quickly

Magazine article Insight on the News

Clinton Must Set His Course Quickly

Article excerpt

"Let the word go forth," a young John F. Kennedy said on his inauguration a generation and a light-year ago, "that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans -- born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace."

Some of those words sounded a little hollow the morning after this year's election, but the torch (if not the earth) had moved the night before. Bill Clinton at 46 is older than JFK (43) was in 1960, or Teddy Roosevelt (42) in 1901, but not by much, and he'll be the first president born after World War II.

This is not necessarily reassuring to those of us of the generation preceding the baby boomers. We have never known a president younger than we are. We're not comfortable with the idea of having to explain World War II, the central fact of our young existence.

JFK was an authentic war hero as well as an authentic political hero, and he was Clinton's idol when he became the first president born in this century. JFK was a good Democrat, but his views and concerns, closely examined, would seem strange and even wrong to many of Clinton's generational colleagues.

No one, perhaps not even Bill Clinton himself, yet knows who he actually is, but if he's the moderate conservative he says he is (most of the time), he'll arrive with a Congress that only his veto can contain. Voters in several states returned liberal incumbents, with term limits. Maybe Clinton can figure it out.

Generational differences make George Bush difficult for many young Americans to understand. The questions about Clinton's draft dodging, which merely puzzle the men and women in his generation, infuriate most of those of the preceding generation, nurtured on the everyone-does-his-share patriotism of the World War II years.

Nevertheless, Bill Clinton won it, and he has a right to expect the good wishes of every one of us. …

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