1990 - 1997 | Howard Smead

1990 - 1997

Apologies and second thoughts ...

 I didn't inhale

-- Bill Clinton

 

The present has become a foreign country to a generation that grew up with faith in the American Dream. By the fifth decade of our lives, we'd had considerably less impact on our country's well being than we expected. We thought we would change the wor ld. But the old problems linger, especially those of race. Reform and revolution failed, conservatism reasserted itself angrily and without compromise. The 90's became the rightist version of the 60's. The Rodney King beating, the Mark Fuhrman tapes and t he racial reaction to the acquittal of boomer sports star O.J. Simpson underscored the permanence of racial prejudice. How ironic that as the first boomer president moved into the White House, racism, the one lessons he and his generation learned better t han every preceding generation, showed itself to have persisted. In some ways it's worse than before. Communism has come and gone. Rock and roll has become big business. Youth culture and alienation are marketing tools. Prosperity is a traditional value. Postmodernist nihilism has replaced the values we once sought to reform. Optimism and idealism are negative traits. Anxiety threatens to become the real boomer legacy as Bill Clinton's boomeresque self-doubts has given him all the leadership ability of a George Costanza.

1990



"The Gay Plague"
-- numerous televangelists

 

 

The Doonesbury character Andy died of AIDS. By the end of the year, 100,000 real people had died from it in this country as well. Over the previous decade, it grew into an insidious epidemic -- transferred through sexual contact and infected needles, w ith no cure in sight. Because it appeared limited to homosexuals and drug addicts, Reagan and the Christian right viewed it as God's vengeance on "permissive and immoral lifestyles." Rock Hudson's death in 1985 had little apparent effect on the cold-heart ed conservative view, even though Reagan and the star were friends. Had it not been the bravery of his Surgeon General C. Everett Koop who started displaying condoms everywhere he went in an effort to encourage safe sex, the public might have received no leadership at all on HIV. George Bush did little better. His kinder, gentler ways didn't apply to gays.

 

          ***

 

          The end of Apartheid

          -- Nelson Mandela

 

It seemed as impossible as ending killing Jim Crow in the South, especially without the widely predicting blood-bath. But after twenty-seven years in jail, the leader of the revolutionary African National Congress was freed by the South African governm ent on February 12. After suffering from years of economic sanctions and international isolation, the white government under President F.W. de Klerk began to hold discussions with Mandela and other black leaders, such as Nobel Laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu , about ending apartheid. In June Mandela staged a triumphant visit to America. In 1991 legal apartheid ended and in 1994 the first free, universal elections brought Mandela to the presidency. The impossible had happened.

 

          ***

 

          Operation Sundevil

          -- hacker crackdown

 

The Secret Service and other state and federal law enforcement agencies initiated nation-wide "Palmer raids" against computer enthusiast hackers and crackers without ever clearly defining their "crimes" and the extent of their criminality. They raided homes at gun point, legitimate businesses such as Steve Jackson Games (which never broke any law) in their efforts to breakup the Legion of Doom, the Masters of Deception, and such underground heroes as Phiber Optik and Acid Phreak. Law enforcement grossl y exaggerated the nature and seriousness of entering the online databases of companies, government agencies and private individuals. Innocent people had their vital computer equipment confiscated, work destroyed and their civil rights violated with near i mpunity. All of which indicated the quivering fear governments had of citizen access to information without a priesthood of public or private intermediaries.

 

          ***

 

          Weidervereinigung

          -- German reunification

 

The Cold War that had become the single most dominant force in our lives was really over when Germany, our arch enemy in two terrible and bloody wars this century reunified and our old enemies became even stronger, better friends. Other European nation s stirred uncomfortably, shrugged then embraced the stability of East-West reunification as elsewhere in Europe age- old nationalistic and ethnic prejudice began to threaten the promise of continental tranquility and prosperity.

           1991

 

          The mother of all battles

          -- Saddam Hussein

 

The mother of all fools, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990. In declaring that Saddam's "aggression will not stand," George Bush displayed the leadership we treasure in our presidents. He moved his advisors, his generals, the United Nations a nd the America people into support for removing the Iraqis by force. Although we saw remnants of the old anti-war movement, this time shouting, "No Blood for Oil," we also saw the destabilization that would result from such naked aggression. Vietnam was o n everyone's mind in the Persian Gulf. Ho Chi Minh was almost as big a presence on the battlefield as Saddam Hussein. The battle ended with the Highway of Death, as Hussein's troops fled Kuwait with their pillaged goods only to be incinerated outside the city.

 

          ***

 

          "Other than that, he's a great military man."

-- H. Norman Schwarzkopf

 

No mincing incompetent, Stormin' Norman may have blustered and miscalculated, but he led the 30 nation coalition that reduced Saddam to a paper tiger and kick his devastated army out of Kuwait. The ground war lasted exactly 100 hours, fought to the str ains of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA." In routing Iraq we expunged many of the ghosts of Vietnam. Perhaps that will be the ultimate legacy of Saddam Hussein's lunatic scheme. He surely didn't contribute much to the pages of military strategy. The Co alition lost 240 soldiers (146 of them Americans) to Iraq's 100,000.

 

          ***

 

"... the promise of a New World Order

where brutality will go unrewarded and

aggression will meet collective resistance."

          -- George Bush

 

George Kennan called the 1989 end of the Cold War and the late 1991 demise of the Soviet Union, "a turning point of the most momentous historical significance." The bi-polar world of free and communist nations, West versus East, gave way to a new align ment of north versus south -- the developed, industrial nations of the northern hemisphere versus the impoverished, underdeveloped, over-populated nations of the southern. Although right wing extremists saw the New World Order as a totalitarian plot by in ternationalists, in many ways the Gulf War and the carnage caused by the dissolution of Yugoslavia proved the new order of things was actually disorder.

 

          ***

 

          Long Dong Juan

          -- the Clarence Thomas - Anita Hill controversy

 

Thomas was gliding through Senate confirmation to Thurgood Marshall's seat on the Supreme Court until charges of sexual harassment surfaced. When challenged by a former co-worker at the EEOC, Thomas labelled the re-convened hearings a "hi-tech lynching ." Anita Hill's charges withstood intense scrutiny; Thomas' strong denials remained unshaken. Men in less visible positions had their careers destroyed on less credible charges. In the end the lesson of this televised sideshow became clear -- race trumps gender. Anger over the callous treatment of Hill by the all male Senate Committee helped produce notable election victories in 1992, "the Year of the Woman." What went largely unnoticed was the emergence of a hidden and extensive network of black conserva tives to which both Hill and Thomas belonged.

          1992

 

          "I didn't inhale."

          -- Bill Clinton

 

Sure, Bill, but have you ever heard of a contact high? He brought the burden of our generation with him to the presidential campaign: Experimentation with drugs, opposition to the War, and even sexual profligacy (not that we own that). As might be expe cted, other boomers in office from Al Gore to Newt Gingrich had to fess up to similar indiscretions. Only Dan Quayle and Clinton tried to wiggle out of it. Only Clinton suffered for it.

          ***

 

          "womyn"

          -- politically correct spelling of "women"

 

Radical elements of the Women's Movement and the New Left found their way into universities where they came up with ideas that sealed the doom of reform. As former New Leftist, Todd Gitlin wrote, "The Left, which once stood for universal values, seems to speak today for select identities, while the Right, long associated with privileged interests, claims to defend the common good." In an attempt to ban bad thoughts, these people sought to curtail bad speech, The began altering the language to remove al l elements they deemed sexist, racist, classist or otherwise oppressive. So much for the First Amendment. So much for academic freedom. Students were expelled for "inappropriate laughter," for calling people water buffaloes. Male professors saw their enti re careers destroyed for violating PC guidelines by saying "suffragettes" rather than its newspeak form "suffragists". Never mind that wasn't how the activists referred to themselves. Historians were urged to drop "Founding Fathers" in favor of "the Found ers." Under such anti-democratic thought control, everyone who wasn't a white male was considered a "nigger," a victim of oppression. Kafka could not have come up with a more chilling scenario.

 

          ***

 

          "Sexual Harassment by University faculty,

          staff and students is prohibited"

          -- campus sexual harassment guidelines

 

"Male professors troll their classes for dates and wives." A common sentiment among feminists. In typical PC fashion, they attempted to regulate all male professor - student contact. This spread beyond universities into business and homes, where men es pecially were charged with creating hostile working environments. The nightmare world that resulted kept elementary school teachers from hugging their young students. It turned neighbors into PC spies, and skewed the law to assume guilt based on accusatio n. This postmodern nightmare was reminiscent of a recently dead empire: Everything that isn't obligatory is forbidden.

 

          ***

          "Can we all get along?"

          -- Rodney King

 

The June riot over the acquittal of the LAPD officers videotaped beating King was the worst this century. The dubious verdict by an all white jury from a whitebread LA suburb underscored to blacks the decades-long pattern of police brutality in which w hite cops acted with impunity against them. White people denied this until the tape and subsequent events supported black complaints.

          ***

  

           "...there is a religious war going on in our country ...It is a cultural war... And as those boys took back the streets of Los Angeles, block by block, my friends, we must take back our cities, and take back our culture, and take back our country. "

          -- Pat Buchanan

 

Had Buchanan limited his attacks to the PC left, he might have won more support. But he was referring to race, class and religion -- and he made no bones about it. Attacking political correctness was one thing. Attacking pluralism was something else ag ain. In attacking pluralism, he appeared to be going back on the core American values expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Indeed, original intent conservatives were doing just that.

          ***

 

          In the 60's "not everyone demonstrated,

          dropped out, took drugs, joined in the sexual

          revolution, or dodged the draft."

          -- Marilyn Quayle

 

Well, Marilyn, we know why Dan joined the National Guard, even if you don't. Essentially though, her statement was correct. Taken with Buchanan's angry speech, though, her contempt for compassion and brotherly love reduced her message to cold-blooded destain for the poor, minorities, and everything and everyone that wasn't white, middle class and conservative. The two speeches at the Republican Convention crippled Bush's reelection bid -- which might not have been far from their minds whe n they gave them.

 

          ***

 

          "Read my lips, no new taxes."

          -- George Bush

 

Despite his immense and deserved popularity after Desert Storm, Bush acted as though the middle class was not suffering. And that the tax increase he'd vowed to avoid was necessary. Maybe, maybe not. The real point was he reneged on his most important campaign pledge. Right wing radio vilified him for it, and helped turn voters towards Bill Clinton.

 

          ***

 

          Earth Summit

          -- Rio de Janerio

 

George Bush was a reluctant participant. He thought protecting the environment was bad for economic growth and refused to sign the Biodiversity Treaty to protect endangered species. In the short term it made sense, which was why his critics claimed he had severe problems with "the vision thing."

 

          ***

 

          Operation Restore Hope

          -- Americans in Somalia

 

Originated by Bush and continued by Clinton, US troops went to the Horn of Africa to make sure food reached the starving people. Famine relief worked so well, the job was expanded to include the creation of a stable nation torn between fifteen factions , each with loyal followers. In an October 1993 fire fight, guerrillas killed twelve men. One year after Desert Storm we were horrified by the sight of locals, whom we'd gone there to help, dragging a dead GI through the streets of Mogadishu.

 

          ***

 

          Whitewater

          -- Clinton's Watergate?

 

Already the multiple investigations led by a partisan Republican Congress have dwarfed the Watergate investigations in time and money. Thus far Whitewater has lasted four years, twice as long as Watergate -- without finding a shred of evidence of wrong -doing by Bill Clinton or his wife Hillary. Reports exonerating the Clintons have been suppressed; however, they do reveal shady real estate dealings involving a failed savings and loan corporation in Arkansas. Clinton's involvement in these affairs over his years as governor raised legitimate questions about his character prior to becoming president. This so-called "character issue" also surfaced in sexual harassment charges lodged against him by Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state government emp loyee, and promulgated by the Christian Right.

 

          ***

 

          Master of Your Domain

          -- Seinfeld

 

This hit series, which first aired as a half hour special on July 5, 1989, had already become the I Love Lucy of the 90s, by the time the infamous masterbation episode was broadcast on November 18 as "The Contest." The weekly antics from four of the mo st self-absorbed and superficial characters ever to grace the self-absorbed and superficial prime time networks, Seinfeld, largely through the strength of its brillinat writing and acting, spoke directly to the child still lurking inside many middle-aged boomers. From the hypster dufus Cosmo Kramer, to loser-for-all seasons, George Costanza, Elaine, a boomer Emma Bovary, the anal retentive star and a host of exceptionally weird supporting characters, this show defined urban middle-class neurosis.

 

1993

 

          "On the Internet nobody knows you're a dog."

          -- New Yorker cartoon

 

The global computer network entered the public consciousness as more homes with personal computers began to explore the thrills, mysteries and opportunities of instantaneous world-wide communication that was revolutionizing our lives.

 

          ***

           "There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and

start thinking about robbery -- then turn around and see somebody white and feel relieved."

          -- Jesse Jackson

 

Tough words from so proud a man. Within the most impoverished areas of the black sections of our cities, a handful of people were committing violent crimes at an alarming rate. So grave was the problem that a black man in Harlem had a shorter life expe ctancy than a man in Bangladesh. The leading cause of death among black men under twenty-five was homicide. That half of the total number of murder victims were black, while blacks constituted 12% of the population. One third of all black men in their 20' s were in jail or on probation. The poverty rates in some inner cities were so high they pulled down the entirety of Black America despite three decades of remarkable economic growth. A segment of hip hop culture promulgated the violence. Its cult of the Bad Black Brother undermined Black America and racial harmony.

          ***

 

          Justifiable Homicide?

          -- abortion-clinic murders

 

Long associated with bombings of abortion clinics, extremist elements of the anti-abortion movement advocated the murder of abortion doctors. The first of a wave of killings occurred when Michael Griffin shot and killed Dr. David Gunn in Pensacola, Flo rida. The Wall Street Journal tried to blame the slaying on the 60's! In May 1994, also in Pensacola, Christian minister and right wing zealot Paul Hill turned a shotgun on another abortion doctor and his escort. The following year John Salvi murdered cli nic workers in Boston. The reign of terror from an already incendiary group of radicals showed just how polarized we'd become over this and other social issues. An FBI investigation later showed there had been no orchestrated conspiracy.

 

          ***

 

          Hellfire in Waco

          -- the Branch Davidians

 

Another apocalyptic Christian sect preparing for Armageddon. They were well armed and loaded with ideology. Under leader David Koresh, the Branch Davidians withstood an unwarranted assault by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Many found it j ustifiable self-defense. When the FBI moved in to replace the defeated BATF, Koresh and his followers held them at bay until finally the agency lost its patience and stormed the compound. Eighty men, women and children, including Koresh himself died in th e conflagration.

 

          ***

 

          "The Truth is Out There"

          -- The X-Files

 

Mixing 60's paranoia with our generational preoccupation with science fiction, this tv series offered more weekly commentary on the state of our national psyche than any weekly news magazine. The driven FBI agent Fox Mulder and his beautiful, skeptical partner, the enigmatic Dr. Dana Scully. tracked a vast conspiracy that appeared to be the joint work of aliens and selected leaders of various industrial governments. "Spooky" Mulder has been consumed by the conspiracy virtually his entire life -- ever s ince his sister was kidnapped by aliens. Aided by a motley assortment of nefarious types from Assistant FBI Director Skinner, Deep Throat, Well-Dressed Man, and lately Blonde Information Babe and be-deviled by Cancer Man, Natty-Dressed Man and Ice Pick Ma n, Molder has become the everyman of our once idealistic, then alienated, now anxiety-ridden and always self-absorbed generation.

          1994

 

          "This is a revolution ... I am a genuine revolutionary; they are the genuine reactionaries."

          -- Newt Gingrich

 

Counter-revolutionary was more like it. Still, we were at it again. Challenging the liberal/corporate state all over again. This time from the right -- and from the inside. Who thought boomers who would lead a second political revolution and a radical conservative one at that. Though technically not a boomer, Newt was championed as the boomer answer to Bill Clinton. He had far greater impact on the election than the president. Yet just two years later, Clinton had staged a political comeback to win re- election in a walk and Newt had admitted to ethics violations and barely holding on to the Speakership under vastly reduced power.

 

          ***

 

          Surf the Web

          -- popular preoccupation

 

History and technology were moving so fast that no sooner had we become aware of the Internet than a new aspect of it popped up -- the World Wide Web. Based on graphical presentations and employing Web Browsers such as Netscape or WebExplorer, it simpl ified and diversified the Internet. Users were liberated from the user-confuser operating system known as UNIX. The Web took the Internet by storm, by 1995 heavy usage was causing brown-outs and bandwidth shortages.

 

          1995

          Jack-booted government thugs

          -- National Rifle Association

 

On April 19, several right wing radicals who'd been involved in the burgeoning militia movement bombed the Alfred P. Murrah federal building on Oklahoma City in retaliation for the federal attack on the Branch Davidians and perhaps for the assault on R andy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992. The militias and the NRA held gun ownership the key to our liberties the same way others held First Amendment guarantees of free expression. The difference was one of emphasis. The right wing posed a threat of vio lent insurrection not seen since the vigilante movements of the 19th century. Their attacks on the Constitution, on our democratically elected leaders, and our system of jurisprudence posed the worst potential threat to the country since the Civil War. Th eir accomplices in right wing radio and the NRA became so anti-government they sounded like the New Left. The similarities were creepy. Gordon Liddy urged his listeners to go for head shots when the cops broke down their doors. Imagine his reaction to a B lack Panther saying the same thing?

 

          ***

 

           "We the jury in the above entitled action, find the defendant Orenthal James Simpson, not guilty of the crime of murder ..."

          -- O.J. Simpson jury

 

Not until a predominantly black jury acquitted O.J. Simpson, did whites finally realize what blacks have known for centuries. The two races of Americans dwell in separate worlds and have vastly different perceptions of American justice. Blacks expresse d joy; whites outrage. Both reactions were perhaps more apparent than real. But for those of African decent that a black man could use the white legal system to win acquittal for murdering a white woman, and a blond at that, was indeed cause for celebrati on. OJ's money aside, his race became a key factor in his trial. Maybe it marked the time when we began to apply justice equitably to blacks and whites. For the short term, though, it was yet another source of racial animosity. As one white said, "Whites will riot silently -- by moving away from integrated neighborhoods, separating themselves even more from blacks."

 

          ***

 

          "Did you ever use the word nigger?"

"No."

          -- F. Lee Bailey to then LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman

 

Mark Fuhrman is one of us. So much for our generational arrogance about ending white racism.

 

          ***

 

          2131

          -- Cal Ripken, Jr.

 

When Cal passed Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played, he did so with a modesty and grace that put his contemporaries to shame. Our society has become so addicted to hype and hyperbole that when true excellence emerged, it seemed surreal. Ca l's qualities of low-key hard work, practice and patience are not qualities for which our generation is known.

 

          ***

 

          The 73

          -- Republican freshmen

 

The 90's are the 60's turned upside down. There we were again, raising hell, getting our way and still angry about it: the anger, the passion, the hatred of the president, the non-negotiable demands. The same old song, complete with shouted epithets an d shoving matches on the floor of Congress. But with a different meaning this time around.

 

          ***

 

          "I'll be your Ronald Reagan."

          -- Bob Dole

 

If this is all the better our parents can do, we say off to Rest Haven for the lot of you. The last thing we need is another actor in the White House.

 

          ***

 

          Million Man March

          -- Louis Farrakhan

 

Only Minister Farrakhan could have produced the outpouring of goodwill and healing that took place on the Mall on October 16. A portion of the black male population was in desperate straights. The head of the Nation of Islam presented them with a power ful message of personal responsibility and solidarity. Sadly, he was the wrong man at the right time. His numerology more than his racial prejudice and anti-semitism will do more to condemn him to history's page B.

          ***

          The Year of the Internet

          -- Newsweek

 

The Web thrust the Internet into everyone's mind if not directly in front of their noses. The decade's mid-point was witnessing two revolutions, one political, the other global. Businesses began pumping millions into online development. If the PC was t he equivalent of the Model T Ford, the Internet in all in aspects, was the 1990's answer to heavy industry. It will change our lives even more dramatically than industrialization did a century ago.

 

          ***

 

          "Maybe now all these Deadheads will be forced

          to get a life. God knows it's way past time."

          -- an anonymous rock fan

 

Jerry Garcia's death marked the final demise of the hopeful, careful spirit of the 60's. Moribund for decades, declared dead more than once, the spirit survived the 80's among the Grateful Dead's loyal followers. Just as childhood ended with the death of John Lennon, with Captain Trips gone on his final journey at age 53, middle age had undeniably arrived.

 

          1996

 

          "The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race."

          -- the Unabomber

 

Neo-Luddite? Eco-Terrorist? Wackjob? In his 35,000 word manifesto, former math professor Ted Kaczynski revealed himself to be a man at odds with his world and himself. Rambling, compelling, and unsettling, his philippic against technology was neither l eft nor right, and certainly not mainstream or rational. He dismissed leftists as hating "anything that has an image of being strong, good and successful. They hate America, they hate Western civilization, they hate white males, they hate rationality." Bu t he called conservatives "fools. They whine about the decay of traditional values, yet they enthusiastically support technological progress and economic growth. Apparently, it never occurs to them that you can't make rapid, drastic changes ... without ca using rapid changes in all other aspects of society as well." His solution was to terrorize and destroy the modernist elements of society -- and put what in their place? He didn't say exactly. Perhaps in his lack of solutions the Unabomber said more about the dystopian state of our society than even he knew. Only time will tell.

 

          ***

 

          "The era of big government is over"

          -- Bill Clinton

 

Everyone supports it, unless it's their slice of big government gets cut. Suddenly, the entitlements we pumped our tax money into such as college loans, medicare for our parents, social security for our retirement are no longer guaranteed. We always pr ided ourselves on our individualism. Now it will be sorely tested.

 

          ***

 

          Soccer Moms

          -- Up against the Wall, Mommy

 

The new reality for yuppie moms and dads is the boomer mom ferrying her over-raising, over-coddled child from one organized activity to another. It's as if Soccer Moms were the adult cuase and relfection of hyperactive children, where in their over-wro ught concern to bring quality to the lives of their chidlren they spend their precious free time referring their every waking moment. What ever happened to those golden days of going out to play?

 

          ***

 

          "Irrational exuberance"

          -- Alan Greenspan

 

The period from 1991 to 1996 saw a 152% gain in the stock market, the largest percentage and the longest period of gain without a major correction in history, surpassing the 20s and the 80s, each of which were but half as long. The American econmy was flourishing. But another reason for the bull market was the steady influx of capital from boomers just starting to save for retirement. As boomers had fueled the housing and real estate boom of the 70s, we were a large force behind the surge in mutual fun ds on Wall Street. Even this cautionary note from the head of the Federal Reserve issued on December 5 and again the following February about grand expectations slowed the bulls only temporarily. The prospects for continued rise remained rosy.

Besides that boomers also had an equally irrational fear that there wouldn't be Social Security left come retirement time in a decade and a half, and began dumping money into the market as a hedge against that.

          1997

 

          "African Language Systems are genetically based and not a dialect of English."

          -- Oakland School Board supporting Ebonics

 

The Cold War ended. No such luck racial tension. It remains our national nightmare in black and white. The latest manifestation was an ill-formulated attempt in Oakland to dignify black street dialect. In the 70s the controversy was labled Black Englis h and held that American blacks spoke a language all their own, with its own rules of grammar. The laudable effort to train teachers in this dialect was lost by the self-righteous and ultimately self-defeating Afrocentricism that sought to elevate bad dic tion habits into good culture. In the end the Ebonics (for Ebony and phonics) controvery became yet another tear in the social fabric.

 

          Hello, Dolly

          -- cloned lamb

 

 

  

          The end ... for now

Title Page
Introduction
The 1940's and 50's
The 1960's
The 1970's
The 1980's
The 1990's
The Most Influential People in our Lives
Conclusion

howard@howardsmead.com     © Howard Smead 2017