History

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

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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.