Thursday, May 01, 2008

Barack Begets Boomer Backlash

UPDATED: 02-May-2008
Why don't you all f-fade away
And don't try to d-dig what we all s-s-say
I'm not trying to cause a b-big s-s-sensation
I'm just talkin' 'bout my g-g-generation
This is my generation
This is my generation, baby
My Generation - The Who

I was not going to post about Democratic campaign for a while. One, I am among the 60%, and two I thought it was time to try to get this blog re-focused on the divided government meme. But just when I thought I was out of it, they pulled me back in. The Obama/Clinton contest is just too darn entertaining.

First, I have said before, and I'll say again - I like Obama. I like his intelligence, I like the way he talks, I like the way he thinks, I like his 20o2 position on the war and I particularly like the fact that he is a Bear fan. It is easy to feel good about Barack Obama. That does not change the fact that a prospective Obama presidential administration is a cipher. There is simply not enough resume' or experience to see an Obama Presidency as anything but an unbreakable code whose meaning is fundamentally unknowable now. No one can know what an Obama presidency will be like. He might be a great president. He might be a disaster. He might even be... Jimmy Carter. Personally, I'd rather see him seasoned as VP for four or eight years before I could vote for him. Yes, I like Obama, but the nonsense coming from Obama supporters who project their hopes and dreams onto the Obama blank slate is another matter all together. Most entertaining of all, is the earnest outrage/righteous indignation/and the audacity of wishful thinking on the part of Obama acolytes.

Lets talk about Jeremiah Wright.

The Difference Between Wright and Wrong.
I am not a very religious person, and that may be the reason I have never really understood the level of intense media coverage given to Reverend Jeremiah Wright's comments. My view is that a pastor like Jeremiah Wright (or Billy Graham or Jerry Falwell or Ted Haggard) are all in the entertainment business. I am not questioning their religious beliefs or those of their followers, I am just saying there is no denying the importance of the performance aspect of what they do. If they know their audience, and are sufficiently entertaining while fulfilling the spiritual needs of their parishioners, they are rewarded with a growing ministry and expanding contributions. It's a show. As such, I don't think it makes any more sense to hang the quotations or views of a Jeremiah Wright performance standing at the pulpit on Barack Obama sitting in the pew watching it, than it does to hang the political views of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jane Fonda on anyone who has sat in a theater and watched "Conan the Barbarian" or "Barbarella" (their respective finest efforts). But that is just me. Obviously, I have a minority view on the subject, since that the media punditry and blogosphere cannot seem to get enough of the story and are continually trying to make exactly that connection between Wright and Obama.

To his credit, Obama made it clear from the beginning that his campaign was not about race. Still, he ha not ignored race as an issue, and has arguably done more to build bridges across the racial divide than any candidate in recent history. At the same time, Obama makes no bones about driving a wedge dividing the electorate along generational lines. Attacking the values of the baby boomer generation has been a core theme of his campaign, since before he was a declared candidate. The theme was outlined in his book, "The Audacity of Hope" and in this January, 2007 New York Times story:
"Mr. Obama calculates that Americans of all ages are sick of the feuding boomers and ready to turn to the generation that came of age after Vietnam, after the campus culture wars between freaks and straights, and after young people had given up on what ├╝berboomer Hillary Rodham Clinton called in a 1969 commencement address a search for “a more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating mode of living.” In his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” Mr. Obama is critical of the style and the politics of the 60s, when the psyches of most of his potential rivals for the White House were formed. He writes that the politics of that era were highly personal, burrowing into every interaction between youth and authority and among peers. The battles moved to Washington in the 1990s and endure today, he says. “In the back and forth between Clinton and Gingrich, and in the elections of 2000 and 2004,” he writes, “I sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the baby boom generation — a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago — played out on the national stage.”
When he announced his campaign in February, 2007, he explicitly called for "a new generation of leadership" and used the word "generation" 12 times in a 20 minute speech. He has reinforced this theme ever since, including this interview last November:
"I think there is no doubt that we represent the kind of change that Senator Clinton can't deliver on, and part of it is generational," Mr. Obama told Fox News yesterday about the difference between himself and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. "I mean, Senator Clinton and others, they've been fighting some of the same fights since the '60s, and it makes it very difficult for them to bring the country together to get things done."
Driving this generational wedge is both a strength and weakness of the Obama campaign. When he announced his candidacy, I wrote sarcastically that Obama was declaring "war on Boomers" but there may be more truth than sarcasm in that observation. Certainly, it is easy to find a deep well of resentment among post-boomer generations, whether you want to call them Gen-X, Gen-Y, Gen-Z, Whining Crybabies, or whatever.

They are tired of reading about boomers, living in a culture shaped by Boomers, and hearing about how Boomers invented sex, drugs and rock & roll. For some reason, they seem particularly bitter about having to financially carry the aging Boomer population on their back for most of their working life. They think of the boomer generation as narcissistic and self-indulgent. Who knew? Frankly for Boomers like myself, it is hard to understand this attitude, as they do not seem to appreciate that we are, in fact, the only generation that matters, and how truly fortunate they are to experience our era with us.

Be this as it may, Obama exploiting this generational divide has manifested in odd ways. For example, Obama has no problem giving a speech lumping the eight years of the Clinton administration with eight years of the Bush43 administration as one big undifferentiated status quo to be discarded into the dustbins of history:
"How many years – how many decades – have we been talking about solving our health care crisis? ... In every election, politicians come to your cities and your towns, and they tell you what you want to hear, and they make big promises, and they lay out all these plans and policies. But then they go back to Washington when the campaign’s over. Lobbyists spend millions of dollars to get their way. The status quo sets in."
Now, there is no conceivable common thread between the Bill Clinton administration and the Bush43 administration, except that they are both Boomers. Interestingly, Obama has also seen fit to praise Reagan, Bush41, and JFK in another speech, while ignoring Bill Clinton. The common thread - Obama is rhetorically pitting Presidents of the "Greatest Generation" vs Boomer Presidents Bill Clinton and Bush43. It is kind of pincer movement with pre-boomers and post-boomers out-flanking the boomers. And it is an effective working strategy. At least it was, until the .Jeremiah Wright Comeback Tour over the weekend.

A few weeks ago, I compared Jeremiah Wright's statements to some of Geraldine Ferarro's controversial comments. Then I was focusing on the disparity of coverage by Obama campaign strategist Keith Olbermann who had lambasted Clinton in a"special comment" for not sufficiently denouncing Ferarro, but then gave Obama the kid glove treatment over Wright's statement a few days later. I didn't realize it then, but in the context of the latest Wright kerfluffle, the generational nature of the divide is coming into clearer focus:
"[Cinton's] core support comes from feminists and professional women who lived and fought the good fight against real hard-core sexism in the 60’s and 70’s. It was a different kind of sexism than we see today. Much more blatant. Impenetrable glass ceilings and widespread legal exclusion from many professions and career opportunities was the norm. Sexual harassment and a hostile workplace for women was an accepted work environment. The women who fought to change these conditions are women who have seen a lot, and done a lot, and made a real difference in our country. Women like Diane Feinstein, Gloria Steiman, and Geraldine Ferraro. So... Geraldine Ferraro makes a comment about Obama in support of Clinton and is slapped down by Keith Olbermann and others. Gloria Steiman makes a comment about Obama in support of Clinton and is slapped down by Keith Olbermann and others. Diane Feinstein makes a comment about Obama in support of Clinton and... so it goes. These are women who have earned our respect, and are just not getting it from the Obamites and pundits like Olbermann. It is women like these, who - right or wrong - believe that this is their time - their one shot to see a culmination of a lifetime of struggle for women’s rights - and, right or wrong, have a sense of entitlement in this presidential race."
What was true for the feminists, is also true for those, like Jeremiah Wright, who fought against racism for their entire lives, whether they took that fight to the streets, the courts, or the pulpits. You don't have to agree with their words (which I don't) or try to justify their statements (which I won't) or even understand their views. But they are fighters one and all, and deserve some measure of respect for a lifetime of struggle against injustice. One does have to wonder how the former parishioners of the Chicago Trinity Church, or the Detroit NAACP members who applauded Wright's speech and gave him an award, now feel about Obama after he throwing Wright overboard. Perhaps Obama has been targeting the wrong generation all along. Both Wright and Ferraro (and McCain), fall into the generational group identified as The Silent Generation, which pre-Boomer and post-"Greatest Generation". Let me take this opportunity to nominate the Silent Generation as Worst-Name-Ever.

Some bloggers, like Digby take a personal, almost Shakespearian view, of what they consider to be Wright's betrayal, a view reinforced by the New York Times story. Others, such as Kyle Moore followed John Kerry's lead and took an easy shot at the media. Andrew Sullivan reports on generational angst in letters from readers. AJ Strata, expressed a similar generational view that reflects this angst and Obama's generational campaign theme. I am not sure whether AJ is an Obama supporter, but I suspect his perspective is shared by many who are:
"How much longer do the delusions of an aging and wailing generation have to poison this country? My generation and my kids generation don’t see races, they see people, friends, neighbors who happen to have different genetic codes. I am blessed to live in a neighborhood which is richly diverse, and we respect each other based on where we have come to be - Americans living the American dream and raising our families amongst some of the best people on the planet... Thankfully what my kids and their friends see is a dinosaur who is bleating out his tired cries as he prepares to leave this world to their generation - who are going to simply look upon him as that crazy uncle who never did find a way to live in, and enjoy, the modern world. Reverend Wright may be stuck in the middle of the last century, but out children are building the world of the 21st century and have interest in moving backwards. Their friends are too dear to them to give them up for Ol’ Jeremiah and his disconnected rants."
It is interesting that while AJ asserts that he and his kids "don't see race" but just "friends and neighbors" they do see "the delusions of an aging and wailing generation.." with that entire generation characterized and generalized as "dinosaurs" that are poisoning the country. There also does not seem to be any acknowledgment that these "dinosaurs" may have had something to do with creating that modern diverse tolerant neighborhood that AJ's kids so enjoy today.

Look I'm not saying that AJ is wrong. There is certainly an element of truth in what he is saying. But if AJ, or Keith Olbermann, or Barack Obama, or the Huffington Post, or Markos Moulitsas or anyone else, think that people like Jeremiah Wright or Geraldine Ferraro or or for that matter, Hillary Clinton - are going to stop fighting or sit by the sidelines and be quiet because Obama supporters think it is time for them to step aside and shut up... well there is some delusion going on there, but it is certainly not on the part of Jeremiah or Geraldine or Hillary.

It very well may be time for Barack and the next generation to take the reigns of power. But not if he or his supporters expect Boomers to step aside and hand it to him. If he wants the reins now, he is going to have to rip it out of their hands.

UPDATE: 02-May-2008

I cross-posted this at Donklephant. Karl at Protein Wisdom linked to it with some observations on generational politics in his post"Election 2008: Don’t try to d-dig what we all s-s-say":
"I have also noted a 16-year cycle of “change” elections since WWII that may be a related phenomenon. Reading the complaints of Andrew Sullivan’s Gen Y readers, it is slightly amusing that they think the “old farts” don’t get Obama’s appeal to their idealism about politics. In reality, the “old farts” get it, but have seen versions of this movie before, per the 16-year cycle. "
An interesting and amusing comment thread ensues, including some back and forth on who really is or is not a "Boomer" and interesting related links on generational politics, including Joshua Glenn's Brainiac post "Obama: boomer or post-boomer?":
"The Globe was way ahead of Sullivan on this point, actually. Back in February, Peter Canellos, the paper's Washington bureau chief, argued that "much of what's striking about Obama's campaign ... can be better read in generational, rather than racial, terms." I applauded Canellos's perceptivity in a series of Brainiac posts."
Joshua the proceeds to develop a new generational dating scheme based on a 10 year cycle, placing your loyal blogger at the end of the Boomer cycle, and Obama firmly in Generation X.


Anonymous said...

I would like to see the reins of power ripped out of somebody's hands... but I'm not sure that - once ripped - who's hands I'd like to see them in because I honestly can't stand the current crop of politicians Republican or Democrat.

Although I will concede that it's still fun to watch Obama out-Clinton a Clinton.

mw said...

"it's still fun to watch Obama out-Clinton a Clinton."

That is what he needs to do, but right now it looks like he is trying to run out the clock. I don't think that is going to work for him. I've stopped thinking about what I an going to do in November, until the Dems sort this out.

Anonymous said...

I'm 59, female and I remember the 60's. We were the "Me" generation and "don't trust anyone over 30". We are the ones who started the generational divide only now we're doing it in reverse, whining about being pushed out. We still want to be center stage and get one of our own demographic in the WH. We are still the ME generation.

And we are shortsighted and show failure to analyze when we damn Obama for being light on experience. In all ways, he is light years ahead of Hillary for becoming President. Failure to recognize this is failure to learn from who we were and the change WE wanted. Hillary is a slick, sick puppy and we want her 'cause she's one of us? Obama taught constitutional law - I'll take that over Wal Mart Board of Directors any day. We don't trust anyone but us - that's what happens when the narcissism of the ME generation ages.

mw said...

I'm not saying being a boomer is a reason to vote for Clinton. I am just saying it is simple reality that it would be wildly out of character for this generation to step aside now.

In the mean-time, there is no question that Obama is explicitly saying that people should not vote for Clinton, because she is a Boomer.

On the other hand, some vague hope that Obama is going to fulfill failed dreams of the boomers, is not a particularly good reason.

I know exactly what we'll get with a Clinton Presidency. I've seen it before. On balance, it was a good deal. I'll take competence, compromise and hard-nosed political realism over projections of vague hopes any day.

FWIW here is one Boomer who is telling Rev Wright to just shut up.