Hey, man. Bethel is NOT Woodstock
By STEVE KURLANDER
Special to The Post
Saturday, November 03, 2007
John McCain was my favorite presidential candidate until a few days
ago. He always represented the maverick politician I liked to
support, because he never was afraid to take a stand on an unpopular
issue. Both of us also have adopted daughters from a foreign country,
so I sort of relate to him.
That said, Sen. McCain is rapidly becoming very "uncool." On Oct. 21,
during a Republican presidential debate, Sen. McCain attacked the $1
million "earmark" that Hillary Clinton tried to insert in the federal
budget for a museum at the Woodstock site in upstate New York. Sen.
McCain drew laughs when he stated that he was "tied up" as a POW in
Vietnam and could not get to Woodstock. He then started using the
Woodstock grant in ads critical of Sen. Clinton.
In fact, the Bethel, N.Y., site of that four-day 1969 musicfest is
now at the center of an effort to create a beautiful music and
educational complex in the Catskill Mountains. Alan Gerry, a local
self-made billionaire who started out as an appliance salesman and
sold out a cable empire to Time Warner a few years ago, has been
developing the Woodstock site as a premier tourist destination. The
museum is meant to complement the Bethel Woods Center for the
Performing Arts, which opened in 2006.
But Hillary is a presidential hopeful. Just after she put the $1
million in the budget, she received a significant contribution to her
campaign from Mr. Gerry, and the controversy began. Days before Sen.
McCain brought up the subject in the debate, the Senate removed the
money from the budget.
This project, though, has been a strong shot in the arm to the very
depressed Catskills. The New York Philharmonic and Bob Dylan have
played at the performing arts center, along with an array of other
superstars, the past two years. It has been a stunning success.
I was born and raised in the area. The Woodstock Music Festival site
in Bethel is a mesmerizing place, one of the nicest vistas that New
York state has to offer a wandering tourist. Surrounded by rolling
hills, the spot is home to horse and dairy farms and fields of wild
flowers and hay. It is really a wonderful place to go to mellow out
and find some inner peace.
If one tries to imagine one event that represented the 1960s, it is
the congregation of 300,000 people in a field in Bethel. As such, it
deserves recognition and financing as a unique event in American
history. It may not be as important as the Gettysburg battlefield,
but it's certainly as deserving as the birthplace of President Calvin
Coolidge in Vermont, which is a federally financed National Historic Site.
For many approaching adulthood in the 1960s, Woodstock epitomized the
height of influence of the radical hippie movement during that
turbulent era - drugs, rock and roll, free love. Many Baby Boomers
look at the event with great sentiment and affection.
Woodstock also has been used by many as a symbol of the worst
political and social ills of liberalism. Social philosopher Ayn Rand
referred to those attending the event as "self-indulgent hedonists
behaving like pigs."
Apparently, given Sen. McCain's comments, the vitriol remains strong
among some Republicans. But I would ask Sen. McCain and other of my
fellow Republicans to differentiate the physical landscape from the
emotional one. Misplaced and archaic rhetoric is harming the effort
to help a depressed economy. Bashing Woodstock almost 40 years later
does nothing for upstate New York.
If Sen. McCain were smart, he would go to Bethel, walk the fields,
listen to some music and reach out to his generation. Forget the
outdated, dividing rhetoric and help build the museum. It might help
him get the nomination. Peace.
Still stuck in the Sixties
By Marsha Mercer
WASHINGTON - Ronald Reagan was president and greed was good when a
friend sent me a black-and-white picture postcard of graffiti on a
warehouse wall: "Bring back the '60s, man!"
That'll never happen, I thought, but I was wrong. In ways the artist
never intended, we're still fighting battles of the 1960s - over
racial and gender equality, social values, the environment and Vietnam.
The Sixties live on in our politics, especially on the presidential
campaign trail. Elections are about the future, but every four years
we replay the cultural divide that defined a decade long ago.
When Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, his 1960s experience
loomed large. Questions about draft evasion followed the commander in
chief into the White House. Almost as big an issue, though, was
Clinton's lame remark that he may have smoked pot in the Sixties, but
he didn't inhale.
In 2004, Democrats nominated for president a decorated Vietnam War
veteran who had returned home to lead the anti-war movement. John
Kerry didn't realize how potent emotions from the '60s still were
until Swift Boaters tarnished his war record.
Now, Hillary Clinton is having a Woodstock moment.
Sen. Clinton served Republicans pork on a platter when she and Sen.
Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., proposed a $1 million "earmark" for a
Woodstock concert museum in Bethel, N.Y., site of the three-day rock
festival in August 1969.
In a rare sign of disapproval to two of its own, the Senate said no
to the special grant.
In his presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., latched onto
the earmark as a symbol of why Clinton shouldn't be president. At the
last GOP candidates' debate, McCain deadpanned about Woodstock, "Now,
my friends, I wasn't there. I'm sure it was a cultural and
"I was tied up at the time."
He didn't have to explain that he had been a prisoner of war in
Vietnam in the '60s.
"But the fact is, my friends, no one can be president of the United
States that supports projects such as these," he said. Clinton's
spending request was "a shining example of what's wrong with
Washington on pork-barrel, out-of-control spending."
Republicans are thrilled to have an issue that evokes the old culture
wars - even though many of today's voters can't remember or weren't
even born during Woodstock.
The Woodstock concert museum will be built next to the Bethel Woods
Center for the Arts that opened last year. The state of New York
thought enough of the museum to allocate $15 million, so $1 million
from federal coffers hardly seems lavish. Supporters argued it will
boost the economy in the rural area.
Even if it is a worthwhile project, one wonders why a politician as
savvy as Hillary Clinton would ask taxpayers around the country to
foot part of the bill for anything Woodstock.
That's where Alan Gerry comes in. Gerry, often described as a "former
cable television mogul," is a Republican worth $1.6 billion,
according to Forbes magazine. He bought Max Yasgur's 37-acre farm in
1996 along with 1,400 acres nearby and reportedly has poured $85
million of his own money into the complex. He's also generous with politicians.
USA Today reported that nine days after Schumer and Clinton inserted
the Woodstock museum grant in an education and health spending bill,
Gerry and his family gave $20,000 to the Democratic Senatorial
Campaign Committee and $9,200 to Clinton's primary and general
This is legal, but it has an odor.
Breaking the link between favors and campaign cash is hard work.
Fighting a 40-year-old festival is easy.
Woodstock is "a cultural event that I know that a lot of Americans
want to spend their tax dollars to commemorate," McCain said archly
on the "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer."
And so, as the first baby boomers sign up for Social Security and
former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman turns 71 and Woodstock becomes a
museum, the beat goes on in politics. Bring back the '60s, man!
Marsha Mercer is Washington bureau chief of Media General News
Service. Her e-mail address is