WASHINGTON — Former President Bill Clinton has been celebrating his 60th birthday at breakneck speed and he will be continuing to do so for months to come, according to news reports. Given the many laughs he has afforded me over the years, I hope he will proceed at a more restrained pace. I could not bear to see him make another run to the emergency room. The sudden whitening of his hair since his retirement from the White House and shrinkage of his once fleshy physique should admonish voluptuaries everywhere of the potential health threats from recreational sex.
On August 19, the blessed day of his birth, he observed it with family and friends at Martha’s Vineyard, the proletarian purlieu where he and his wife have vacationed for over a decade, even when they were not on speaking terms. The next day he observed the historic event on Nantucket at Smith Bagley’s vacation home, Inverness, where the Clintons have freeloaded for seven years. Carly Simon sang “Happy Birthday” to him. Now he is taking his birthday on the road. Early in September he will be celebrating his August 19 nativity in Toronto. On October 29 he will be in New York, and the Rolling Stones will be there to sing “Happy Birthday” along with other Clinton favorites. Our 42nd president will be combining the celebration of himself with fundraising. This is an innovation in narcissism, but then Clinton and like-minded members of his 1960s generation have been innovative narcissists for decades.
Not surprisingly they are not entering their 60s in a happy frame of mind. “I hate it,” Clinton said regarding his 60th birthday. “For most of my working life, I was the youngest person doing whatever I was doing…in the room.” Well, maybe he was the youngest of the men in the room. The public record suggests that the women in the room were often much younger. Actually Clinton’s unhappiness at turning 60 is not typical of his age group. A recent poll of Americans turning 60 by the AARP showed that 77 percent were quite “satisfied” to be where they were in life.
That finding supports an argument I have been making about the 1960s generation for years, to wit, the majority were not New Age narcissists of the Clinton variety. Many were simply the next generation of conventional Americans, down to earth and sensible. Typical of them is another famous politician who just turned 60, President George W. Bush. “I really do feel young,” the President enthused to People magazine, and of course owing to his healthy life of exercise and moderation he is.
One of the most historic events taking place in the first decade of the 21st century is that the members of the 1960s generation are squaring off for one more political battle to claim the identity of the most momentous political generation of the 20th century. The left-wing of that generation became famous early with its members’ protests against bourgeois America and their celebration of liberated youth. The right-wing of that generation made its mark later in the Reagan Revolution and now in the Bush Administration, which is headed by a 1960s generation politician who is precisely the opposite of his left-wing rivals, the Clintons, Jean-Francois Kerry, Howard Dean, Al Gore, et al.
At Clinton’s birthday celebration in New York on October 29 I wonder if Catherine C. Mayo will put in an appearance. She might well be the Cindy Sheehan of the moment. At her recent court appearance in Boston she proudly wore a Rolling Stones T-shirt, and she is definitely on the Clintons’ side in the present 1960s intergenerational rivalry. Mayo, 59, is the lady whose disruptive behavior on a transatlantic flight to Washington, D.C. caused the plane to land in Boston. She opposes the Bush Administration. On the airplane she spoke mysteriously of some sort of relationship with Al Qaeda and at one point lowered her pants and urinated in the aisle — a peace demonstration that I think all will agree clearly got out of hand. In 2003, while writing for a Pakistani newspaper, the Daily Times of Pakistan, Mayo declared, “I am an American child of the 1960s. We defied the standards of our parents and declared that a war was unjust. All conflicts can be settled by peaceful means.” Two days later the United States invaded Iraq. Now she is really mad.
Yet she is only 59. When she turns 60 she may become even more morose than her cogenerationist, Bill. She and Bill are the minority within the 1960s generation; but they are, as they admit, a unique minority. Watch for some truly bizarre antics from them all as they trudge off to oblivion, and forget not the 2008 election. This intergenerational battle is going to get fierce.