Counterculture President: Why Upstate New York Sniffs at Bill Clinton

By West, Diana | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 24, 1999 | Go to article overview

Counterculture President: Why Upstate New York Sniffs at Bill Clinton


West, Diana, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


They were not page one stories, but two incidents that took place during the presidential vacation jaunt are items students of the age of Clinton should not let pass. Only tabloid gossips featured them, but these two particular snippets are the stuff of cultural artifacts, shedding light on those defining lines the Clintons have both broken and etched across American culture at century's end.

The incidents took place on a sunny August weekend that the first couple spent at chez Steven Spielberg in East Hampton, NY. The schedule was fairly loose, except for all the fund-raisers, with maybe a little golf on Sunday for the president.

The first vignette comes out of one of the fund-raising parties, a relatively modest, $250-a-head affair hosted by the president and first lady of the United States, who, after all, still stand as symbols of institutional authority and historical continuity - a.k.a. the Establishment (such as it is). Perhaps this is why some of the guests were appalled by the evening's entertainment: hip-hopper Wyclef Jean cursing and playing, among other things, an angry, feedback-enhanced rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" reminiscent of Jimmy Hendrix's infamous Woodstock assault on the venerable anthem. Whether spectators knew it or not, they were witnessing a clash of cultures - rock culture (hip-hop star) vs. bourgeois culture (the president). Call them old-fashioned - temporally-challenged? - but some of these fund-plunking Democrats were, according to Page Six, deeply insulted by the performance, which included a colossally tasteless moment when the hip-hopper publicly offered the president a cigar.

No word on whether the Big He accepted, but Mr. Clinton didn't seem to take offense. Far from it. In fact, it was Mr. Clinton who had personally invited Wyclef Jean to play. At the opening chords, or, rather, opening feedback, of the national anthem, Mr. Clinton took to the stage and was what you might call digging it. It was a tableau for the millennium: the 42nd president of the United States cheering the quintessential cultural assault on . . . himself. Or, at least, what he is supposed to stand for, and never did.

Such culture-clashing is not going to give pause to Bill Clinton, a child of the 1960s without the good grace to become a neo-conservative. Having come to embody the erosion of the line between what used to be thought of as the Establishment and what used to be thought of as the counter-culture, our first post-adolescent president may finally have a legacy he can live with. Or can he? Here we come to the second vignette of the weekend. …

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