Monica? Bill? Who are they?
Atrios brings up the ubiquitous problem of the historical memory of undergraduates:
I spoke in an undergraduate class today. As a friend of mine has said a few times about her students, pretty soon you're going to have to explain to them what the Lewinsky scandal was. This isn't a comment on the quality of the students, just that the degree to which 19 year olds have shared cultural and historic experience with me is shrinking fast. Bush v. Gore happened when they were 11. What's recent history to me is a vague recollection for them.
As I discovered this over the last few years, I dropped 1990s references in my classes. If I make them, I have to give a rather detailed background discussion because they don't really remember Bill Clinton as president.
In fact, a year or so ago I was responding to a question in class that indirectly brought this subject up (I think it was a question about Johnson's impeachment) and I said -- with my usual measure of heavy sarcasm -- something like this:
Oh yeah. That's right. You're the kids so many "concerned Americans" were worried about back then. The cry at the time from enemies of Bill Clinton was "What will we tell the children? What will this do to the children?"
Well you know what? You guys seem to have turned out all right. First of all, you don't really remember it at all. I'm not sure who's at fault for that but it was such a bizarre and meaningless and utterly forgettable episode I'm not sure that's such a bad thing.
Second, you folks seem to have adjusted to the post-Monica world pretty well. Despite the warnings of the sirens of the late 1990s, I don't see you guys pursuing riotous living and horrific personal habits any worse than anyone I knew during my college days. It's nice to know that was all so much silly bullshit.
It's good to see that Atrios has discovered that little factoid for himself. It's something those of us who've taught for the last 10 years or so already knew about. Honestly, I haven't had a student bring Clinton's impeachment up in class since about the year 2000 so these kids don't seem to remember this tawdry tale -- or if they do they have a very negative view of it.
I'm sure somewhere Tom DeLay is crying into his beer about "the decline of kids today" when he's asked about this little bit of historical amnesia. His greatest achievement as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives doesn't even register with college students today or, if it even does, it is viewed very negatively by them.
In a survey course I spend just as much time on the Clinton impeachment as I do on the Andrew Johnson impeachment which is to say I don't really talk about it. Quite frankly, given the range of potentially important historical topics, it's just not that important. I remember thinking at the time I'd be talking about it all the time but I scarcely have an opportunity to talk about it these days.
But this is not to say that the Lewinsky saga hasn't had rather major consequences that we're still having to live with. Too bad conservatives have cheapened impeachment to the point that it is viewed by the media and the next generation as a partisan tool and now, disturbingly in their eyes, conservative Republicans are now viewed as the last perpetrators of this form of partisan injustice.
The current administration has taken advantage of this development. We have a president and vice president who have both mightily deserved impeachment for about two years now. However, no one dares bring it up because it is now viewed as an illegitimate partisan tool.
And no, I don't think we should talk impeachment lightly. However, there have been few administrations in U.S. history who have deserved to be put to this indignity more than the Bush Administration.
The Monica debacle has essentially taken this rather useful curb on presidential power completely off the table for members of Congress.
And Dear Leader, George W. Bush, knows this -- and has taken advantage of it accordingly.