The year 2008 will witness Hillary and her fellow opportunistic 1960s student protesters known as the Coat and Tie Radicals campaigning against the young conservatives who in the late 1960s were dismissed as negligible but a decade later manned the Reagan Revolution. It is going to be an epochal match-up and a very bitter one.

Though the generation that fought World War II is called the “Greatest Generation,” the 1960s generation is the most momentous political generation of the 20th century. Now its left and right are squaring off for one last battle to claim title to their generation. Whoever triumphs, it will be as memorable a victory as Franklin Roosevelt’s defeat of President Herbert Hoover or as Ronald Reagan’s victory over President Jimmy Carter. What will make it even more momentous is that Hillary now represents the political heritage of liberalism that Roosevelt began. Though in the Clintons’ hands that liberalism has been disfigured, Hillary embodies an Old Order that is desperate for victory. The looming battle between the two wings of the 1960s generation — one championing the Roosevelt heritage, the Old Order, the other championing the Reagan heritage, a New Order — explains much of the bitterness of contemporary politics. ~R. Emmett Tyrrell

Unless, of course, HRC is not the nominee on the Democratic side, which is not just plausible but an increasingly likely outcome.  It is also unlikely to be the epochal, era-shaping electoral event that Mr. Tyrrell is making it out to be.  2008 is structurally very much like the 1920 or 1976 elections: coming off a war and two consecutive terms of the same party in the White House, the opposition party enters into a period of more or less brief control before the next real realignment takes place.  If 1932, 1968 and 1980 represent the major realignments of American politics in the last century, 2008 will actually wind up being one of those relatively uninteresting preceding election cycles that does not actually represent an epoch-ending moment.  2008 is actually more likely to be like 1976 in terms of the closeness of the race (there will probably be no 1920-like 60-34% victories for either side), and the results of a likely Democratic victory in 2008 may be as short-lived as was the Age of Carter.  In any case, 2008 will not be quite the Boomer generational battle royale described by Tyrrell, but I can understand why an inveterate Clinton foe who is writing about Bubba would want to cast the election as a contest between Hillary Clinton and the GOP as the last throwdown of the old politics of the Boomers.  

By the way, this may be another factor behind Obama’s rise as an alternative to HRC: in his age, if not in his actual policy views, he does represent a change from the preoccupations of the Boomers, which is something that all Americans under 45 would very much like to get away from.  We actually are tired of refighting the battles of the 1960s and 1970s, since many of us were not even born then, and we are definitely tired of having to speak about foreign policy with Vietnam constantly looming over our heads.  To the extent that 2008 represents one of the last gasps of this old argument, it does not point to the future but represents the beginning of the end of the brief Boomer ascendancy that began in 1992. 

The weariness of the younger generations with this dated bickering may be why some young conservative and progressive bloggers are impatient with the worn-out dogmas held over from the ’70s and ’80s in both parties, since these ideas, if they were ever useful, stopped having much relevance in about 1991.  It has taken many people of our parents’ generation the last fifteen years to figure out that the world cannot be understod through the respective lenses of bankrupt neoliberalism and neoconservatism, while some of us growing up in the midst of this tired rehashing of old points of dispute have instinctively moved away from the ideologies that seem suited, if they were ever suited to anything, to the end of the Cold War.  Both have failed primarily in the failure to recognise that the Cold War did, in fact, end and that this would have implications for both foreign and domestic policy.  The insane, bipartisan obsession with demonstrating hostility and opposition to Russia is one of the more destructive legacies of this inability to adapt.  The inability to confront jihadis in a way that faces up to the explicitly religious and specifically Islamic nature of the threat and the constant recourse to inaccurate and confused labels of generic terrorism and fascism both reflect how useless the old doctrines are for combating the threats of the present.

Neoconservatives in particular have been desperate to pretend that some kind of Cold War redux is always in the offing (first China, then Russia, then the Islamic world, then Russia again) and that we are now fighting Islamofascism, because their rather strange and warped Munichocentric foreign policy views only make any sense in the context of ideologically charged conflicts with totalitarian revolutionary world powers.  (They didn’t make that much sense even in that context, but at least they didn’t seem entirely self-evidently absurd.)  In a world where these powers do not exist or where religion, and not secular ideology, drives conflict, they have no answers because they don’t even understand what the questions are.  Uninterested in history, confused about the nature of Western identity and largely disconnected from the religious heritage of their own civilisation, they have neither the intellectual resources, nor the right understanding of who we are and what we are fighting to defend, nor the appropriate frame of reference for grappling with the threat from jihadis.  In their visceral opposition to economic populism of any kind and their embrace of free trade agreements, neoliberals seem to me to have been similarly myopic on the domestic front (however I must plead a certain degree of uncertainty about just who can reliably be called a neoliberal).  The Popperian moment has passed, and the Popperians of left and right can now offer nothing but dreary slogans.  May 2008 be the last year we must endure these derelicts.