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Grunge is dead, but the 1990s live on in the Democratic debates.


Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders tonight kept circling back to the 1990s as the touchstone for arguments about contemporary issues, bringing up the 1996 welfare reform bill, NAFTA, the 1994 crime bill, and the de-regulation of Wall Street.

One obvious reason for this: Hillary Clinton first emerged as a national figure in the ’90s, as the first lady. She’s also on record as supporting many of her husband’s policies, some of which, like the crime bill, Sanders also supported. While Sanders was trying to pin blame on Hillary for now unpopular policies of the period, Clinton wanted to claim some credit for the fondly remembered prosperity of the era.  

There’s a deeper reason for the 1990s nostalgia: That was when the modern rift in the Democratic Party began. The Clintons represented a new, more centrist liberalism that Sanders resisted. Much has changed since then. As a result of the 2008 crash, even the Clintons have had second thoughts about 1990s-style centrism. Still, that decade continues to define the formative identities of both Clinton and Sanders.