If You Can Remember the Nineties, You Weren't Really There


Andrew Sullivan remembers the nineties, when he was sane.

Since it's Christmastime and all, I'll say something I never thought I'd say: I agree 100 percent with something Andrew Sullivan has written. Countering a Charles Krauthammer line denigrating the 1990s for its "trivial" history and "wondrous oddity," Sully takes a break from searching for Trig Palin's Kenyan birth certificate:

For my part, the 1990s were a wonderful and largely conservative achievement. I too had a political magazine to fill, but found the changing culture as fascinating as the somewhat restrained politics. This was the era, after all, of OJ Simpson and Afro-centrism, of the explosion of the gay rights movement and the evolution of feminism, of the assault on p.c. and the innovation of the Internet, of the pharmaceutical revolution and Russian …. democracy! Clinton, while a dreadful human being, was a perfectly fine, moderately conservative president. The sex and the lying were just humanly fascinating—as was the socially conservative over-reaction.

A society able to devote itself to the core question of perjury in a civil suit and to enjoy Seinfeld and the Simpsons: isn't that kind of era what conservatives really want?

Not all of them, I found out. For those conservatives deeply troubled by modernity and its pleasures, for those who see war and conflict as key motivators for civic virtue, a society pretty happy with itself, and a government actually running a surplus with no wars, is a problem. It saps "national greatness". Bush openly called for a great theme for a great moment. The tragedy of history was that he was granted his wish.

What millions died that Caesar might be great! There you have my argument for Warren G. Harding as America's finest president. And unlike Sullivan, I didn't even spend the nineties trying to convince suckers that The New Republic was the in-flight magazine on Mir. The problem isn't conservatism. It's Greatness. Greatness is a concept I had hoped would be left in the twentieth century. But as Sully's savior said of the poor, greatness we will have with us always.

NEXT: Finding the Center

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. It’s “saviour,” spelled thusly and douchily.

    1. Do you ever get a chance to be Fornicatin’ Pete, or is your lovemaking strictly manual?

  2. Music began totally sucking in the early 1990s,by mid-decade it was all over.I blame digital recording technology and the commercial success of Nirvana.

    That most pre-early 90s recorded music of any value is readily available free now is a most excellent consolation prize.I never would have bought more than 1% of the recordings I have now.

    1. This is so incorrect. Grunge saved music from the cesspool it had become in the 80s.

      The 90’s was a great decade for music, until Limp Bizkit came along.

      1. If you ask me, it was all over by ’30s.

        1. If not for the Page/Plant reunion in the 90’s, I think I would have shot myself.

          1. Jim is right; you and SIV are crazy.

        2. Have to agree. The 90s was the decade of the three chord angst-ridden idiot. At least Cobain had the decency to blow his brains out.

          1. You know you share a name with one of the most boring set of messed up fingers to ever hold a guitar, right?

      2. 90s music sucked. At least the 80s pop bands could play real instruments.

        1. Huh? Gotta add you to the crazies list I guess. That or I want some of whatever you’re smoking.

          1. You guys are all wrong. Commercial music, or, ‘pop’ as it were, largely sucks in every decade. But great music can also be found in every decade.

            1. True that. But each decade seems to add a new layer of suck to the last one, and the 1990s was where everything that had already been wrong with pop music since the year one just overwhelmed the possibility of hearing anything good, or at least worth not scrambling to find another radio station while hearing it into the car, come out of the mainstream music machine again.

              I’ve been spending the 2000s trying to forget the 1990s, and I’ll be spending the 2010s trying to forget the 2000s. I’ve got my iPod and DVD collection as armor against the coming 1990s Nostalgia Fad.

              1. There will be no 90s nostalgia fad because

                a) the 90’s sucked monkey balls
                b) the “theme” of the 90’s was angst, which is no fun nostalgically
                c) the 90s had really really bad TV

                I have spoken.

                1. With regards to your point c: The 90’s had the Simpsons in their heyday. Easily makes up for the rest of the crap out there.

              2. I’m waiting to see what layer of suck can top the invention of autotune.

            2. The pop music of the early 80’s was good, but the flame died in about 1985. I’m no fan of 90s grunge, but by the time it arrived 80s music had already turned into girlyteenpop (sort of like the stuff popular now). There is still great music being made today, but you won’t hear it on the radio.

              1. There is still great music being made today, but you won’t hear it on the radio.

                Absolutely right. When people are arguing against the quality of music being made today, and they are basing that opinion on radio play, they are being bone dead sorry. Look up what is coming out by local talent in your closest metropolitan area’s alternative weeklies and you will find better music than what you hear on pop/rock radio. I use to swing up and down the east coast in my gay nineties to catch shows. Incredible, unforgettable experiences.

                I recall the Merlefest I went to in the early nineties where an old man who looked like a mule skinner sung Canned Heat’s Going Up The Country. He started out very slow, built of the momentum, and then for the finale, he ended by yodeling. This wasn’t your standard fare yodeling, he arpegiated his pitches like Paganini on cocaine. Goddamned!

                Turning on the radio ain’t going to get’cha anything that can compare to that.

          2. The Keytar was an underappreciated instrument.

            1. I’m worried that I agree with you.

        2. Like the key-tar.

      3. Limp Bizkit ruined everything. the preposterous number of hip-hop/rock fusion acts that followed made the latter half of the nineties unbearable for all things rock & roll.
        see also: Pearl Jam whom I blame for Creed and the assorted Vedder clones out there.

    2. you obviously didn’t take enough drugs and stand inside enough speakers.

    3. There’s an extremely strong correlation between when one came into adulthood and when one thinks good music was produced. I’d guess that your 28th year is when new music starts to suck.

      1. If you want to know what new music will stand the test of time, look at what the stoners are listening to.

        1. Phish and video/computer game soundtracks?

          1. Well, I suppose even stoners are wrong on occasion…

      2. Oddly, while there was a period between 2000 and 2005 where I pretty much hated all new music, I’ve found that lately I’m enjoying new music again.

        Between The White Stripes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Muse, and 30 Seconds to Mars, the late 2000s feel a lot like the early 90s to me. And the transition between the 80s and the 90s were my high school years, thus giving me a permanent fondness for the alternative rock anthems of that period.

      3. With me more like 30 y/o. It does correspond quite well with the domination of digital recording technology and the total crap that spewed out as,in the wake of Nirvana’s commercial success, major labels rushed to sign the worst independent label bands,lame-os making shit for music hoping for a payday “switched” to this “new alternative stuff” and commercial X-stations and MTV put it all in heavy rotation..
        I should more properly say that rock and roll music turned into total suck in the early-mid 90s.
        Jim is a little off in his timing.1990 was the year you couldn’t drive up and down the east coast listening to left dial non-comercial stations without hearing “Negative Creep” in heavy rotation(and seeing Nirvana playing in clubs for a $6 cover).By 1994,not-coincidently,it was all over.

        Oh yeah,The White Stripes totally suck.I think the main reason they have any traction at all is so few bands play rock and roll anymore.Nothing sucks worse in music today than hearing Jack White mangle up some Gun Club covers,complete with PC lyric changes.

        1. Speaking of the gun club, their guitarist Kid Congo Powers played for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, which I think was the BEST band of the nineties (and 80’s and 00’s)

      4. A few months ago I would have agreed with that… I never heard anything I liked except 80s (metal, pop, and techno, in about that order), 90s industrial, and every once in a while one of the better bits of 70s rock.

        But I tried Pandora a few months ago and was surprised to discover recent music I liked more than any of that in genres I had never heard of. My favorite band is now Nightwish, which seems to lie somewhere between metal and opera.

      5. Well said, I found myself doing that a few years back. Then I realized that alot of the music I listened to in high school sucked just as bad as the music out there now.

  3. Greatness we will have with us always so long as Tim Cavanaugh writes here.

  4. This was the era, after all, of OJ Simpson and Afro-centrism

    What the fuck is this supposed to mean?

    Help me out, somebody.

    1. It means that this was a column penned long past and only trotted out recently…you know back when Andrew was still dreaming of wearing white to his wedding.

  5. I got rich in the 90’s, but Rap dominated, so it’s a wash for me.

  6. I wouldn’t exactly call that wonderful “surplus” of the 1990s real in any substantive way. It was financed with IOUs sent from the SSA into the general treasury, although to the credit of Newt and Bill, at least they weren’t using all of that SS money and then some the way our entire federal government had for 49 of the preceeding 50 fiscal years.

  7. Seinfeld America kicked ass. There really is no comparison between the 90s and now. Compare the world that, say, the college graduates of 1999 entered compared to the one the most recent graduates will enter.

    Krauthammer and his ilk have a hardon for a glorious conflict in which other people will have to shed blood and treasure and deal with the consequences.

  8. There you have my argument for Warren G. Harding as America’s finest president.


    Why? You mean he wasn’t?

  9. The sex and the lying were just humanly fascinating – as was the socially conservative over-reaction.


    … The sexual harrasment inflicted on a few women and a (alleged) rape of one by him and the bullying his staff inflicted on them notwithstanding, I would imagine . . .

  10. Agreed. The 90s were, overall, a great time to live. As someone pointed out, the 90s were one of the few times when people talked more about buisness than politcs–the sure sign of a happy and prosperous age.

    Then again, if certain people hadn’t been asleep at the wheel during the rise of Osama, the 00s might have been better.

    1. The 00s were getting shaky even before 9/11. The dot-com bubble bursting (along with Enron and the noxious regulations that followed) pretty much ensured that the economy was going to perform worse.

  11. Au contraire, for me the nineties were the MOST political years for me. I found libertarianism thanks to the 90s and Bill Clinton.

  12. Jesus Christ, can’t Tim Cavanaugh come up with something half way interesting to write about? Even a fucking hack should be able to do better that this boring shit.

    1. Link us to your own top-300 blog at your leisure…

      1. Morris is far too finicky an eater for that.

    2. Morris,”come up with something half way interesting to write about?” I agree but Reason has to write to their audience: Men who have never seen a vagina.

    3. Morris, Moist Cyst, Edwierdo, Katz Pawz, whoever you are going by these days, surely you know by now that the years you have spent impotently flailing away on this blog have done absolutely nothing to ease your guilty conscience. Just return the money you have stolen from the tax payers through years of being a parasite and be done with it already.

  13. All booms result in busts and vise versa. Most big moves in culture economics and politics take years to develop. So, the 90′ are the cause of the current situation and hopefully the current crap will lead to a resurgence of American freedom, musical authentics and an escape from “reality” in our television.

  14. All I remember from the 90s are a bunch of Pauly Shore movies and that AOL startup static.

  15. The ’90s essentially killed off daytime game shows. I personally blame both Jerry Springer and Judge Judy.

  16. I thought libertarians had decided on Calvin Coolidge for best US president?

  17. Clinton, while a dreadful human being, was a perfectly fine, moderately conservative president.

    Clinton became a center-left moderate liberal after he got his ass handed to him in the 1994 mid-terms.

    A conservative would not, in 2009, be talking about how we need the health care bill passed, no matter what is in it, because dammit, it’s a START.

    That being said, if Obama were to morph into a center-left moderate liberal after getting his ass handed to him in the 2010 midterms, and we had divided government for the next 2 or 6 years — that would be a pretty good outcome, if whatever health care monstrosity gets done were repealed.

  18. “Clinton, while a dreadful human being, was a perfectly fine, moderately conservative president.”

    Sullivan tortures the word “conservative” to make it mean anything he wants. Clinton was into raising taxes and was responsible for the last monstrous attempt at a government takeover of health care. Clinton was rather left for his first two years until his party got it ass handed to it in the ’94 congressional elections, and did not try anymore big projects after that. On the other hand Clinton did seem more motivated by the ego stroking of being a political celebrity than by his ideology. Circumstances forced Clinton to not be too radical in his last six years, not his natural predilictions.

  19. “a government running a surplus with no wars” The Serbs might remember the nineties a little differently.

  20. The 90s were great. Probably the closest any of us will see to a golden age. Come on – the coffee boom, the micro beer boom, you wanted a job you sent out a few resumes did a few interviews and (shocker) got a job. Sounds like crazy talk I know but it happened.

  21. I seen some things, man… an’ some stuff.

    I wouldn’t recommend it.

  22. Morris|12.21.09 @ 7:08PM|#

    Well, write something better, Morris, and show Cavanaugh how it’s done.

    What’s that? You can’t? What a delightful surprise.

  23. There’s a reason they call them the Gay Nineties.

  24. I was married for three of those years. THAT I remember. Two of those were not so bad. Then things changed. Wow. Knocking those thoughts back with a gin night cap in a minute. Still haven’t untangled all of that strand after a decade. Wow.

    Well, that was the mid to late nineties for me.

  25. For me, musically, the early 90s belonged to America with grunge, Metallica not totally sucking, Weezer, NIN and a hand-full of other bands.

    From 94/95 on, the best music came from the UK. Oasis, Blur, POrtishead, Massive Attack, while only a handful of American bands kept up the pace – Foo Fighters being one.

    I saw Page and Plant and they did not sing Kashmir or Stairway, but instead played some of their lesser known songs. Not a bad show.

  26. For me, musically, the early 90s belonged to America with grunge, Metallica not totally sucking, Weezer, NIN and a hand-full of other bands.

    From 94/95 on, the best music came from the UK. Oasis, Blur, POrtishead, Massive Attack, while only a handful of American bands kept up the pace – Foo Fighters being one.

    I saw Page and Plant and they did not sing Kashmir or Stairway, but instead played some of their lesser known songs. Not a bad show.

  27. This from a guy who jerked himself off to pictures of George W. in a flight suit for years? That preening ‘conservative of doubt’ loves nothing more than dressing in the cloak of national greatness (is he even American yet?) and he’s doing the same shit now falling all over himself to rationalize Obama’s fuck-ups as the masterful rope-a-dope strategies of a pol who sees the globe as his personal chessboard. Sullivan lives for national greatness myths. What else does a pathetic suck-up like him have to live for?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.