WASHINGTON, D.C. -- I do not know what you thought when you heard that Sen. John Francois Kerry was overheard in a scrum of Chicago blue collar workers referring to unnamed politicians as "crooked" and "lying." I thought he was referring to the Clintons. What is more, I thought he was being complimentary.
The Clintons have, indeed, been very artful in all their transgressions. Even when they get caught, they wriggle out of it, save for the time that Bill got impeached, and found in contempt of court, and lost his license to practice law.
Actually, Bill has never really practiced law. He taught law briefly, but mostly he breaks the law. Hillary has been even more artful in breaking the law, though she, too, has suffered blemishes on her otherwise exemplary record of crookedness and lying. You might recall that the last independent counsel to ponder her 1990s appearances under oath deposited in his final report the finding that Hillary's sworn testimony was "factually inaccurate." Yes, "factually inaccurate," but she is a senator today even as Teddy Kennedy is a senator and Robert Torricelli was a senator.
The current wisdom swirling around Campaign 2004 is that it is going to be very bitter. Both sides, the pundits tell us, are going to indulge in "negative" ads and eye-gouging. The explanation for this incendiary turn of events is that the Democrats believe our debonair president stole the 2000 election.
There has to be more to it than that! Republicans believed that the 1960 presidential election was stolen from them and by an equally debonair aspirant. The 1964 election did not turn out to be a particularly "bitter" election -- though I am sure surviving Goldwaterites are still hurt that Lyndon Johnson accused his opponent, Barry Goldwater, of plotting to get us into war in Southeast Asia.
So what really explains the rancor arising in this election year? Why is it that the Democrats cannot get over their hurt feelings about the final tally in the Sunshine State? My explanation is counseled by the historic record. The two branches of the most political generation of the 20th century, the 1960s generation, are now in the fullness of middle age. They were on opposite sides of the barricades in 1968, and so they are today -- though the barricades have been replaced by party lines.