For those still interested, the 44th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival (August 15-19, 1969) is drawing near. It's rather surprising how many still care, and how much the event, and the mists of metaphor that have grown around it, still reverberate.
The aura of Woodstock has long been associated with the counter-cultural left. Images of loud music, drug-taking, skinny-dipping and communal grooviness have provided column fodder for countless conservative culture warriors who contend that the baby boomers ruined America.
In 2007, nearly 40 years after Jimmy Hendrix's last thunderous clang evaporated into memory, Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain aimed a Woodstock-themed negative political commercial at his presumptive 2008 opponent, Sen. Hillary Clinton. Against images of near-naked hippies, McCain's ad criticized Clinton for trying to slip a $1 million earmark onto a larger bill to help fund a Woodstock museum at the new concert venue at the Bethel Woods, N.Y., site where the 1969 Aquarian throngs gathered, 400,000 strong.
The earmark had been sought by Bethel Woods owner, Alan Gerry, a self-made cable TV billionaire, who felt that the museum might bring tourists and jobs to his native Sullivan County, N.Y.
McCain's ad set out to contrast his heroic military background with the self-indulgence of '60s people (like the Clintons). For years, McCain's boilerplate comments included a joke, stating that he would like to have attended Woodstock, but he was "tied up at the time," a sly reference to his years as a prisoner of war held by the North Vietnamese.
When Clinton's earmark was blocked, Fox News exulted, "Hippie Museum Funding Proposed by Hillary Clinton Shot Down by Senate."
But the Woodstock Museum was built anyway. As intended, it has become a tourist attraction in an economically stagnant area. Like any concert site and museum, Bethel Woods seeks grants and funding. Gerry's has continued to work with New York's congressional delegation. A Forbes Magazine profile indicates that he has donated to local incumbents, including Sen. Chuck Schumer and former Representative Maurice Hinchey, as well as to former Sen. Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign.
So it's no surprise that Gerry would strive to have good relations with his current Representative, Republican House Member Chris Gibson. Gerry and his wife will be hosting a fundraiser for Gibson on August 6 in Liberty New York. That's hardly big news. But their guest of honor is a tad surprising.
Speaker of the House John Boehner will be "goin' up the country" to Liberty, N.Y., just a few miles from Bethel Woods. Yes, that John Boehner, the leader of the House Republicans who have just voted to repeal The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) for the 40th time.
We're told that politics make for strange bed-fellows, but in this case, it looks like everyone involved may end up getting bed bugs.
Very aware of being a Republican in a very blue state, Gibson has worked hard to create an image of a bipartisan pragmatist, appearing often at photo ops with Sean Maloney, the Democrat from the neighboring 18th district. But it's difficult to maintain that reasonable rep when you're joined at the hip with John Boehner, considered one of the most divisive Speakers since Newt Gingrich. Under Boehner, popular approval of Congress has fallen to 17 percent, hardly a boon to a Northeast incumbent like Gibson. This appearance with Boehner makes it easier for Gibson's opponents to paint him as just another foot soldier in the Speaker's far-right Tea Party-dominated army.
For years, Alan Gerry has faced criticism from Woodstock purists and true believers who accuse him of turning their "sacred ground" into a corporate theme park for the relaxed-fit Dockers crowd. But that's small potatoes compared to the blow-back he might receive now. Hosting a fundraiser headlined by John Boehner, a man devoted to denying affordable health care to Sullivan County's poor and struggling citizens, will not endear Gerry to his Democratic neighbors. Or his potential concert-goers and arts patrons. Or, most importantly, to the very politically attuned music industry. Don't go looking for Bruce to play Bethel Woods anytime soon.
Weirdest of all, Boehner has now associated himself with Gerry, a man who has spent a fortune to maintain a shrine to everything that culture warriors find evil. And a man who may end up turning to the Speaker for government dough to keep the place running. To Woodstock haters, Boehner might as well be Hillary.
It remains to be seen if the The Gibson-Gerry-Boehner fundraiser is more toxic for Gerry or Gibson or Boehner. Or completely forgotten. But it reminds us that 44 years on, Woodstock continues to fascinate, and divide. Perhaps it has earned itself another historical marker, indicating where the opening shots of the culture wars were fired.
Kevin McDonough is a nationally syndicated television columnist, who lives in Sullivan County, NY, twelve miles from the original Woodstock site.