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Last chance for the baby boomers


"Much of Hillary's chances will rest on if her husband helps her or hinders her" (REUTERS/Joshua Lott)

"Much of Hillary's chances will rest on if her husband helps her or hinders her" (REUTERS/Joshua Lott)

Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, and former President Bill Clinton, right with their granddaughter Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky

Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, and former President Bill Clinton, right with their granddaughter Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky


"Much of Hillary's chances will rest on if her husband helps her or hinders her" (REUTERS/Joshua Lott)

I was lucky enough to be at a lunch table where Bill Clinton was the star guest a few years ago - and rarely was an eating engagement looked forward to with such anticipation.

All who attended presumed the conversation would be insightful, and hopefully just a little free-flowing, peppered with a few anecdotes that only a former President of the United States could offer.

Given the fact that at the time he was a private citizen, having held down the most powerful job in the world for eight years, there just might also be some delicious moments of off-the-record gossip.

But there was to be no such candour on any subject that came up for conservation. Caution of the most extreme kind was the order of the day. Bill was sure-footed and determined throughout in keeping exchanges strictly anodyne. He was indeed a complete master of the old Irish political mantra to be applied in potentially dangerous situations - whatever you say, say nothing.

And, of course, in retrospect his approach was both understandable and sensible. Indeed, one of the enduring memories of that encounter was the blanket of self-protection which surrounded the entire Clinton persona.

Here was a man, who for good or ill, had been hounded and harried throughout much of his public life. No wonder caution - extreme caution - was the order of the day.

It is all too easy to underestimate the psychological wear and tear that the relentless attacks on Bill and Hillary Clinton must have wrought over the years. There are, of course, those who will say too many of their troubles were self-induced. But, be that as it may, the legacy of so often being in the firing line has surely left a lasting wound in the psyche of a couple, who in other circumstances would be lazing their way through their "golden years''.

With husband and wife able to respectively bag an estimated €250,000 per speaking engagement, money is certainly not a motivation in their decision to stay in politics. They are determined the fight goes on. If everything goes according to plan, Hillary Clinton, at age 69, will be sitting at Bill's old desk in the White House next year.

But it's going to be a vicious and dirty battle to get there. Everything from that suspicious Whitewater land deal which ensnared them both in their early years, to the suicide of one-time Hillary aide Vince Foster, to the Monica Lewinsky saga, will be aired yet again.

And all that is just for starters. The recent controversy about Hillary's use of e-mails during her time as Secretary of State will be probed anew. The hard right within the Republican party, and segments of an often hostile media, are already pursing "investigations'' which they hope will irrevocably damage Brand Clinton, and its last great bid for power.

Only last week arch-conservative Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly made the perverse comment that "There's got to be a downside to a woman President''.

And also a few days ago came perhaps the most wounding comment of all, from the normally benign 'New York Times'. It described Bill Clinton as "frail'', and as somebody who "looks older than his 68 years''. The former president was reported to be seething at such a judgement - perhaps all the more so because it is true.

As he approaches his 70th birthday his gaunt features and slower movement - clearly evident to the TV cameras - belie the cherubic countenance of those years when he was a political powerhouse.

"Bill Clinton looks awful. He's pale, visibly withering away, and the bags under his eyes have become more pronounced, outlined by dark lines," said another report this week.

The American media has already dredged up family health records. We are reminded there is a legacy of heart disease on the mother's side of his family.

Equally back in the public domain is the fact he has undergone quadruple bypass surgery, and that during this high stakes operation, his heart was stopped for 73 minutes.

For his part the ex-president is well aware of the dangers signalled by reports such as one that read "Bill Clinton's health may be a major challenge for Hillary''.

He has already warned that the Republican Party, and other opponents, will zone in on his wife's health and her age when the electoral campaign really gets going.

"You can't be too upset about it. It's just the beginning. They'll get better and better about it. It's just part of the deal,'' he said.

Maybe a further sign of the cold-blooded nature of the fight to come is that the tombstone on the grave of Hillary's father was "knocked over'' in an act of vandalism shortly after she announced she would seek the presidential nomination. So why are these two grandparents putting themselves through the wringer, knowing that their personal lives will once again be savaged?

There are obviously many reasons. But perhaps most pertinent of all is that the Clintons are classic baby boomers - the label for those born between the late 1940s and the early 1960s. It can be argued that - all things being equal - this was the most gilded and fortunate generation in the history of humanity, particularly for those who lived in the US or Europe.

The biggest hallmark of the boomers generation may be a belief that life - whatever its inevitable and incidental setbacks - would always get better.

All that was required was effort, which would eventually be rewarded.

Many of that generation in Ireland who came of age in the 1960s have also been irredeemably fashioned by this conviction. The rising tide which buttressed their formative years - such as improved education and career opportunities coupled with a belief that matters such as home ownership at a relatively young age was a given - became an accepted norm. Perhaps it's only in retrospect that such a favoured start in life can be fully appreciated. This is all the more so, given the recessions and the downturns which were to come, and which would shatter previous certainties about jobs, pensions, and getting on the property ladder.

However, many of the one-time boom babies have hung in there, and the old propensity towards youthful optimism still lingers, even if like the Clintons they now traverse their sixth decade, with all the challenges the sunset years can bring.

The Barack Obama bandwagon outfoxed them last time out to Bill's great chagrin. Come what may, the couple's political future remain inextricably linked, and for all his perceived "frailty'' the former President is certain to be closely involved in his wife's campaign. However, despite his still powerful vote-getting allure, along with the old charm, comes the risk he will say or do something which just might scupper the whole thing.

There is picture of a long-haired Bill Clinton back in his college days, complete with the de rigueur beard of the time, clad in an ill-fitting jacket, and clasping some law books. Beside him is a bespectacled Hillary.

They look equally scraggy, happy, and reeking of optimism. It's kind of consoling the flame still burns.

Irish Independent