Bill, the Times They are a Changin’...
I could hardly process the thoughts and images that flooded my mind as I watched Bill Clinton angrily chastise a group of pro-life student protesters from Franciscan University in Ohio this past weekend.
After all, this was the same Bill Clinton whose political aspirations were forged during the antiwar protest years of the sixties, the same man who personally led student demonstrations at home and abroad. It was he and his generation who called for change so radical that much of the “establishment” in Washington could neither understand nor stomach them—official attempts to put them down often leading to violent clashes.
So who would have imagined this scene? There was Bill Clinton morphing into “the man.” Wagging his finger… raising his voice… losing his temper… and scolding a group of student protesters who came to raise their signs and voices against another kind of war – a war against the unborn.
Another old sixties rebel, John Kerry, reacted better to a similar situation last September in Florida—the famous “don’t tase me, bro!” incident. When an overexcited student who was questioning Kerry was dragged away and tasered by campus police, Kerry pleaded with them to let the young man be heard, indicating that he’d be glad to answer his questions. He later said, “In 37 years of public appearances, through wars, protests and highly emotional events, I have never had a dialogue end this way. I believe I could have handled the situation without interruption,” Kerry clearly still remembered his student days, and wanted to respond graciously to the intense demands and questions of youth.
Clinton, on the other hand, reminded me of the languishing antagonist whose waning influence was prophesied in some of the most important protest songs of the Viet Nam era.
Consider Dylan’s words when he railed against the political “old guard” in Masters of War: You’ve thrown the worst fear / That can ever be hurled / Fear to bring children / Into the world / For threatening my baby / Unborn and unnamed / You ain’t worth the blood / That runs in your veins. / How much do I know / To talk out of turn / You might say that I’m young / You might say I’m unlearned / But there’s one thing I know / Though I’m younger than you / Even Jesus would never / Forgive what you do.
And then there was Johnny Cash. He took questions asked by “student radicals” seriously with lyrics like these, from What Is Truth?: The young man speaking in the city square / Is trying to tell somebody that he cares / Yeah, the ones that you’re calling wild / Are going to be the leaders in a little while / This old world’s wakin’ to a new born day / And I solemnly swear that it’ll be their way / You better help the voice of youth find / “What is truth”.
Unlike the Jesus of Masters of War, the real Jesus actually can forgive all of us sinners, including Bill Clinton. I’m sure the Franciscan University students already have. I know a bunch of these kids – and I can assure you that they gathered to pray for him before they went to the campaign rally. And I bet they’ve continued to pray for him even after he rebuked them.
Forgiveness aside, it seems to me that this encounter with a small band of “student radicals” from Ohio was a clear sign that Clinton’s relevance and influence is passing, and a political epoch is closing… while another, still undefined, is opening.