By BDN Staff
Friday, November 09, 2007 - Bangor Daily News
Were you at the Woodstock music festival in 1969? Many baby boomers
who attended that seminal '60s event are happy to brag about it. In
fact, if as many people who claim to have attended were actually
there, Max Yasgur's muddy farm fields would have sunk under the
weight and ended up looking like the Grand Canyon.
But if you're presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, eager to dispel
any perception that like some fellow boomers, you indulged in
promiscuous sex and recreational drugs along with rock 'n' roll
during the 1960s, Woodstock is a land mine. Sen. Clinton learned that
recently after she worked to include a $1 million federal budget
earmark to help build the Museum at Bethel Woods, in Bethel, N.Y.
Ridiculed by conservatives as a "hippie museum," it is actually part
of a larger development called the Bethel Woods Center for the
Performing Arts, which includes a 16,800-seat amphitheater on the
festival site. (Though planned for the town of Woodstock some 40
miles away, the festival was actually held in Bethel.)
During a recent Republican presidential candidates debate, Sen. John
McCain took Sen. Clinton to task for the earmark, and in doing so,
delivered one of the best lines of the debate season. Sen. McCain
said he knew about the festival, but did not attend, because "I was
tied up at the time," a reference to being held captive in a North
Setting aside the legitimate earmark issue, the spat over Woodstock
speaks of a deeper conflict. Some 40 years after the term "generation
gap" was coined to describe the divergent views of the older
generation and boomers born between 1946 and 1964 it seems there
is still a residual … something. Is it embarrassment? Fear of opening
Maybe the next debate ought to include a "What I did during the '60s"
segment. Almost all the 2008 presidential contenders hail from the
generation that experimented with sex and drugs, formed communes and
tried meditation, grew their hair long and wore flowers in it. Some
of it was fashion, some of it seeking to shock, and much of it
self-indulgent, but some of what that generation did changed America
for the better: ending a failed war, extending civil rights to blacks
and women, and launching the environmental movement, to name a few.
Sen. Clinton, as was revealed when some letters she wrote during her
college years were published recently, was hardly a hippie flower
child or radical activist. Does she suffer lingering shame in being a
boomer, perhaps because her generation enjoyed unprecedented
affluence and opportunity, with very little sacrifice?
The museum which Mrs. Clinton quickly distanced herself from is
actually dedicated not to the festival, but to the broader topic of
interpreting not the 1960s as a political, social and cultural
phenomenon. She and the other candidates should reflect on, not
sidestep for political expediency, the times that shaped them.