The US in Transition: Bill's baby-boomers promise the earth: The new generation

THE IMAGES crowd in from every side. There was the new White House staff that Bill Clinton presented the other day in Little Rock, a huddled excited group on the stage beside him, of every race and colour. Most striking, though, was their age; it could have been a reunion of a high-school graduation class of 1980. Then there has been the endless sea of young people on the Mall this week, the free rolling concerts featuring rap bands such as J J Cool, even Steel Pulse, reggae pride of Birmingham, England (not Alabama). It would have been unthinkable in the era of George Bush. But a new generation is taking over Washington.

Even in the most humdrum of years, an inauguration is the crowning moment of the United States constitution. Intoxicated rhetoric fills the air: 'An Avalanche of Faith, Hope and Sincerity' gushed a headline in the Washington Post yesterday - though you might not have guessed it from the recent stream of barbed editorials warning of pitfalls, perils and Clintonian procrastination. For a moment, the complaints are set aside in a uniquely American brew of pious idealising and the tackiest, most ruthless commercialism imaginable.

This inauguration, as every one before it, will see the President as Head of State. The republic lives its equivalent of a coronation, when Bill is King and Hillary his Queen. The new First Lady's ballgown and hairdo are the talking points of the hour, not the ferocious intellect she will bring to her husband's decision-making. At the moment of crowning, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, the three limbs of the US constitution, will for an instant merge. On the steps of the Capitol the man who is fleetingly described as William Jefferson Clinton will take the oath of office from Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and Marilyn Horne turns The Star-Spangled Banner into an operatic aria.

In English parlance this is monarchy, what Walter Bagehot called the dignified part of the constitution. The epithet might seem ill-suited to the giant bazaar that Washington has become. The record dollars 30m ( pounds 19.3m) bill for the festivities will largely be picked up by 100-odd corporations and wealthy individuals: so much for the new administration's pledge to break free from powerful special-interest groups. From Clinton saxophone lapel pins for dollars 25 apiece to the Russian sable offered by a Maryland store for dollars 24,740 ('This Fur Sale Demonstrates the Value of Leadership,') everything can be bought - except tickets for the 11 inaugural balls tonight, which neither love, money nor even connections can any longer obtain.

But, however briefly, goodwill does generally reign. George Bush will become a private citizen, enjoying his highest public approval rating for more than 12 months. The country really does unite around its new leader, for what Mr Clinton this week called 'our great national celebration' for 'a willing and peaceful transfer of power from one president to another'. This time, the hyperbole may be forgiven.

Not since Mr Clinton's boyhood idol John Kennedy took power 32 years ago has there been such a changing of the generational guard. In a peculiarly American feat that almost anywhere else only a military coup could achieve, a man all but unknown a year ago has been elected leader of his country. The arrival of any Democratic president is occasion for pent-up rejoicing and expectation in this most Democratic of cities, not least among those who have waited more than a decade for government jobs. But the contrasts between the old and the new have never been greater. At 64, Mr Bush was one of the oldest men to enter the White House, the last to have served in the Second World War, and whose political life was moulded by the Cold War. Mr Clinton, at 46, is the third youngest.

His generation is baby-boom; his war (in which he notoriously did not serve) was Vietnam. His went to university in 1968, the most turbulent date in modern American history, of protest and violence, when Vietnam forced Lyndon Johnson from office, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated and race riots swept the country.

For all the efforts of Mr Clinton's image-makers, it takes a huge leap of fancy to believe that Arkansas, McDonald's and a famous imitation of Elvis Presley are the ingredients of a new Camelot. But whatever emerges will surely be unrecognisable from the style of Mr Bush, the East Coast patrician who until it was too late treated supreme power as his natural birthright, a transitional figure whose job was to manage the end of the Cold War. Mr Clinton's challenges are utterly different.

Sweeping statements are the stuff of inaugurations. As one writer flatly put it, this is the moment 'when the Woodstock generation meets the infrastructure'. In other words, those first stirrings of the late 1960s against the industrial society have found their full expression in today's concerns about pollution and the environment - symbolised by the title of the bestseller Earth in the Balance, by Mr Clinton's fellow baby-boomer and Vice-President, Al Gore. But even Woodstock can understate the width of the generational gulf. George Stephanopoulos, for example, who as communications director will be one of the most powerful men in the White House, is a mere 31, too young even to have been a rock'n'roller. So is the new press secretary, Dee Dee Myers, the second-ranking public face of Clintonism.

Whatever else, the public is awaiting great things. There may be doubts about the precise nature of the new President - Southern populist, Oxford and Yale meritocrat or gladhander extraordinary? Certainly there are doubts about how he will handle the job. But hope is the order of the hour. A Washington Post poll found only 12 per cent 'scared' about what might happen in the next four years. More than half were either optimistic or excited. Two-thirds expect Mr Clinton will try to keep his campaign promises. A majority too expects 'substantial progress' on issues as diverse as Russia, homelessness and health care.

Such expectations are daunting. Thus far, Bill Clinton is coping with the pressure - even though he is unlikely to match the aplomb of Ronald Reagan 12 years ago. Three hours beforehand no one could find him. In mounting panic his closest aide, Michael Deaver, ventured into the great man's bedroom. The blinds were drawn and Mr Reagan was still half asleep. 'It's 9 o'clock,' Mr Deaver said. 'You're going to be sworn in as the 40th president this morning.' Mr Reagan roused himself, ran a hand through his hair: 'Do I have to?'

Architecture, page 14

Jogger without a road map, page 19

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn