Bill Clinton was in Oxford last Saturday for his daughter’s graduation from the University. A member of my family also graduated that Saturday. It was a delightful English day. But when Bill and I graduated together in 1968 from Georgetown University in Washington DC, it was a dreadful time in America.
Martin Luther King had been assassinated in April and several cities went up in flames. Georgetown students could look out from their hilltop campus over the city and see smoke rising from the inner city of Washington.
Around the time of our ceremony in June, Robert Kennedy was shot dead shortly after he won the California primary election in the race to become the democratic candidate for President.
We had a rough day at our graduation, but made up for that by our 25th and 30th anniversary class reunions, when Bill invited his classmates to party at the White House, a few miles from Georgetown.
Reunions are supposed to be low-key, a time to chill out and relax over a beer with friends.
We received Champagne flutes from marines in white kid gloves on arrival at the Rose Garden as the military band struck up the traditional welcome to the President, ‘Hail to the Chief’.
It was a bit excessive and we weren’t sure what we were getting into.
He had erected a massive tent on the White House lawn where we danced the night away to the sounds of 10CC – Life is a Minestrone, at the 1993 party.
But it wasn’t exactly a “Minestrone” at the 1998 reunion, because the main attraction that night was The Righteous Brothers. They stood directly in front of Bill and Hillary at the time the Monica Lewinsky affair was unravelling and belted out their number one hit You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, without a trace of irony. This was around the time the President turned angrily to the TV cameras and said to the American people: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman…Ms Lewinsky.”
On the night, Bill was chilled and chatted with the classmates and the women in particular were dancing around him like moths to a flame.
They were products of a Catholic university education who had ticked all the boxes and followed all the rules and that night they were trussed up tight in their little black knee-length numbers.
I stood and watched this spectacle with a growing sense that something was happening to this post-war baby boom generation that had pushed the boundaries and had wanted “to create a newer world”.
This was the group that had the greatest exposure to ideas and debates, the group that had come through the trauma of John F Kennedy’s death, the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon, the group that had passion, convictions and principles. Now they had power what would they do with it?
I decided to take a straw poll not on matters of high state – politics and policy – but something closer to home. I thought this would be a litmus test. I asked several of my female classmates if they would sleep with the President.
There was nothing scientific about this, but three quarters of them said “yes”.
Then I turned to a good friend of mine, who was a Church of England vicar, and asked his estranged wife. She was wearing a shocking red velvet, low cut dress with exaggerated curves. Would she go to bed with the President?
“No, but three different marines in his personal honour guard have already asked me to go across the street to the Willard Hotel with them tonight.”
It was that kind of time, that kind of class, and I could still hear the strains of The Righteous Brothers in the background:
"It makes me just feel like crying (baby)
‘cause baby, something beautiful’s dying.
We had a love, a love, a love you don’t find every day
So don’t, don’t, don’t let it slip away."