Barack Begets Boomer Backlash
“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, as I am firmly among the 60%. 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 2002 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 as President. Yes, I like Obama, but the nonsense coming from Obama supporters who project their personal hopes and dreams onto the Obama blank slate is another matter all together. Let’s 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. At the same time, he is not ignoring the issues of race, and has probably 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 declared himself a 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 Ã¼berboomer Hillary Rodham Clinton called in a 1969 commencement address a search for â€œa more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating mode of living.â€ In his second book, â€œThe Audacity of Hope,â€ 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. â€œIn the back and forth between Clinton and Gingrich, and in the elections of 2000 and 2004,â€ he writes, â€œI sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the baby boom generation â€” a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago â€” played out on the national stage.â€
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, 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 also seem particularly bitter about the prospect of 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 fully appreciate that we are, in fact, the only generation that matters, and how truly fortunate they are to share our era with us.
Be that 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 â€“ how many decades â€“ 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 campaignâ€™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 strategy. Or at least it was, until Jeremiah Wright launched his 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 Ferraro, only to give 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 60â€™s and 70â€™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 womenâ€™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 the battles against injustice that they have fought over a lifetime. 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 Saturday night, now feel about Obama after 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 are pre-Boomer and post-“Greatest Generation”. Permit me to nominate the “Silent Generation” as the Worst-Name-Ever.
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 that 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 donâ€™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 Olâ€™ Jeremiah and his disconnected rants.”
It is interesting to note that while AJ says that he and his kids “don’t see race” but just see “friends and neighbors” they also see “the delusions of an aging and wailing generation” with an entire generation characterized and generalized as “dinosaurs” that are poisoning the country. There also does not seem to be any awareness that these “dinosaurs” may have had something to do with creating that modern, diverse, and 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 reigns now, he is going to have to rip it out of their hands.
x-posted from “Divided We Stand United We Fall”