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Posted by on Dec 7, 2007 in Society | 16 comments

‘Bama v. Boomers

barak_obama.jpg

As some of you know by now, Andrew Sullivan has written an absolutely fascinating essay on the potential transformative power of an Obama presidency, published in the December 2007 edition of The Atlantic.

[Note: Shaun Mullen offered his take on this essay a month ago; reference here. My belated take follows. Ironically, while I failed to read Shaun’s commentary prior to drafting mine, we reached a remarkably similar conclusion about Obama’s prospects in 2008, albeit for different reasons.]

In short, Sullivan argues that Obama is the one candidate among the current lot who could definitively move this country beyond the generational conflict of the Boomers. Clearly, that premise might offend certain Boomers, just as it resonates with certain members of subsequent generations.

It certainly resonated with me, and I’m barely not a Boomer; born in January ’65, first-month/first-year Gen X’er. You might remember us as “those multi-tasking latch-key slackers.” Surprise: Some of us are now in our 40’s, with families and jobs and mortgages and everything else you swore we’d never have.

The one thing we don’t have is a cultural debate of our own creation, waged on our own terms in our own style. We are, as Sullivan suggests, bystanders to another culture war, one we inherited from the plentiful ranks of those born between ’46 and ’64.

It’s time to move on. And I agree with Sullivan that Obama is more than just a compelling candidate; he is a potential signal that the days of Boomer dominance are waning. Unfortunately, I also fear that what Sullivan has expressed in this essay is much more than why an Obama Presidency would be powerful. He has (perhaps unintentionally) struck on why the odds are against Obama in 2008. Obama’s ability to help this nation move beyond the Boomers’ schism simultaneously makes him a threat to those Boomers who aren’t quite ready to give up their struggle. Thus, consciously or not, enough of them will vote against him and for one of their own.

But even if 2008 is not “the year,” time has this amazing characteristic that we know all too well: It changes everything. And that means the day will (eventually if not immediately) arrive for Obama, just as it will arrive for Gens X, Y, and Next. Importantly, we can help that evolution along by doing more than we’re currently doing. I’ll say again what I’ve said a thousand times before: The members of my generation need to stop waiting for the Obamas of this world to lead us out of the wilderness. If we want to define the terms of our own debate, then we need to stand up and be counted. Speak. Write. Mobilize. Vote. The Boomers are dominant not only because they are numerous. They are dominant because they care and they have translated that care into sustained action.

Don’t bemoan their influence; don’t criticize their endurance. Learn from it; adopt it; make it our own.

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Copyright 2007 The Moderate Voice
  • I feel that it is definately not the time for Obama. I am not against Obama in any way, I think that he would make a fine President but I don’t feel that right now he is the right person for the job. I believe that Hillary Clinton is the right person to take the presidency right now because under her husband there was no worry about Social Security because it was in fine shape as was the economy. Bush made short work of ruining both but Hillary has the experience to clean it up. Hillary I am sure attended plenty of meetings at the White House to determine such matters, plus she has her husband to turn to for advise when necessary. Hillary also worked for universal health care during her husbands presidency a platform that she is standing on now, when our country is in desparate need of such a thing, I say Hillary all the way, Obama can have his chance later.

  • DLS

    Some commentary and instruction are needed here.

    [Generational conflict, Vietnam, Iraq as Vietnam]

    Isn’t this overdone? Iraq is not Vietnam, and so many anti-war people then as now were and are against our success, and were and are aiding the enemy, whether they knew and know it, or whether they were and are willing to admit it or not. After 1968, a year in which terrible events occurred, liberalism in this country developed a radical, nihilistic, pathological nature, compounded by the McGovern and post-Nixon phenomenon. There is no glory in fact, much less earned, with so much of the anti-war movement then or now. It’s pathetic that people now try to say Iraq is another Vietnam.

    * * *

    [Younger voters and their idealistally beloved Obama]

    The younger (post-Boomer) generation favors Obama while those over 50, as well as women and others (those with less education) favor Clinton, among the Democrats. Obama is the darling of the naive and still child-like when not childish, those who are idealistic rather than realistic.

    The age distinction can be seen in the Pew report on the state of the candidates among voters nationwide and specifically in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina prior to the first elections in the nation, in those states next year.

    Readers can see the report (which mentions the age distinction between Clinton and Obama supporters; note also that most “independents” are liberal college-age kids who have declined a [Democratic] party affiliation) by Pew here:

    Pew report on Dem candidates and voters

    … voters over age 50 in all three states favor her over Obama by more than two-to-one …

    As is the case nationally, Clinton’s lead in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina also is boosted by her considerable backing among Democratic voters who are less educated and older. In all three states, she more than doubles Obama’s support among voters age 50 and older, and her lead is widest among voters who never attended college. In all three states Obama runs about even with Clinton among college graduates, and in Iowa and South Carolina he garners significantly more support from younger voters than he does from older voters.

    [Iowa] As is the case nationwide, Clinton holds the advantage among voters who are less educated, female, age 50 and older, and moderate or conservative. Barack Obama runs slightly ahead of Clinton among younger voters, liberals and college graduates. The age gap in Iowa is particularly noteworthy. Barack Obama is supported by 34% of Iowa Democrats under age 50, and just 16% of those ages 50 and over.

    Obama also wins substantial backing from independents who plan to attend a Democratic caucus on Jan. 3. He leads Clinton by a 32% to 19% margin among these independent voters, compared with Clinton’s 35% to 24% advantage among Democratic identifiers, who make up 72% of likely caucus-goers.

    [New Hampshire] As is the case nationwide, Clinton’s strongest backing in New Hampshire comes from those with less education. New Hampshire voters who have not attended college favor Clinton over Obama by a 52% to 16% margin, while the vote is divided almost evenly (27% to 22%, respectively) among those with college degrees.

    [South Carolina] As in other states, and nationwide, Clinton’s electoral strength in South Carolina is among Democratic voters with less education. She leads Obama by a 53% to 28% margin among those who never attended college, while the race is even among those who have. Clinton also holds a 15-point lead among voters with household incomes under $50,000 annually compared with a smaller four-point lead among those earning more.

    [South Carolina]

    Under 50 : Clinton 42% Obama 38%

    50 & over: Clinton 48% Obama 23%

    * * *

    I know we’re in a self-centered culture that is excessively youth-oriented (the Yahoo Web site is sickening to view sometimes, it’s so bad, as one egregious example), but it is truly silly to write off the Boomers because the front end of that group is now approaching (too-early) retirement age. (The retirement age in this nation and the rest of the West should be 70. There is nothing sacrosanct or of any value whatsoever in the traditional, long-obsolescent age of 65. Up to age 70 people still live full lives. The average age of onset of moderate disability is 71 and severe disability, 77 years. Much medical literature uses age 70 as the boundary for identifying older patients and higher, age-related risks, such as with transplantation.)

    Four things need to be remembered by everyone who may be immature and rushing to write off the Boomers. There is much ignorance or misunderstanding, and silliness in treating the Boomers of the future as different from current older “gray lobby” voters.

    1. The Boomers were not all born in a single year, and it is dishonest, not merely ignorant, to refer to “the Boomers” when referring to those born in 1946.

    2. The Boomers are not old. The Boom was 1946-1964. Those at the center of the cohort was born in 1955. (The peak year for births was 1957.) They reach age 70 in 2025. Silly youth-oriented people are much too premature in their description of the Boomers as old (particularly when the sixties are not old age and haven’t been for decades). The center of the boom, 1955, is the most suitable to use as a single year if one wants to be simplistic in characterizing the Baby Boomers, though this is poor practice (see below) other than to identify how the cohort in general has affected life. (1955 or 1957 are the years if one wants to simplistically characterize the Boomers or the effect they’ll have, say, on the federal budget.)

    3. The Boomers are not homogeneous, nor have been their experience and prospects. Those at the front end of the Boom face the same conditions as before the first Boomers arrived. The changes that the Boomers induce as a cohort take place slowly, with more change as later, larger portions of the cohort are involved (this is mainly age-related, from youth to young adulthood to middle age) and each year’s new portion of the cohort typically is larger, up to the 1957 peak (it varies somewhat, in reality), then decreasing — but with a still-increasing total cohort fraction involved. Finally comes the tail end of the Boom, who face a totally different situation than those at the head end faced. The advantages enjoyed by the Boomers are typically at their highest (low home prices, for example) as the head end of the Boomers reaches a new stage in life or culture, while the disadvantages of the changes wrought by the effect of the Boomers (high home prices, say) are most felt by those at the tail end. “The head end has it easy; the tail end gets screwed.” Not everything is due to the Boomer influence (changes in home prices also are due to migration, for example), but the effect of the cohort is real and is different for different Boomers based on their age, because the Boom lasted several years.

    We will observe (and experience) this with Social Security, which in its current form is unsustainable. The head-enders will face few or no problems in their initial retirement years, and only later will face changes, while those born later in the Boom, with larger numbers of new retirees each year, peaking with the 1957 Boomers (1955 is the center of the Boomer period), diminishing afterward, with greater total numbers each year, will experience increasing disadvantage and hardship.

    4. Viewing older Boomers as irrelevent politically as they approach retirement age is laughably illogical. Experience shows that people become more active voters as they grow older; the existing “gray lobby” is well known. Imagine in another 20 years when the peak of the Boom (the 1957 Boomer fraction) and the center of the Boom cohort (year 1955) have passed age 70 and most are retired. They will have greatly enlarged the “gray lobby.”

    The Boomers will form a strong party in the battle to come of trying to salvage Social Security (trading benefit reductions or reductions in their growth with tax increases or new borrowing, which will be resisted by Gen X and younger taxpayers).

    If you look at page 3 of the following PDF document (“US Population Characteristics), especially the first part — the first graph — you will see the Baby Boom throughout birth to the real years of old age (several years from now, the negative curve in the “projected” first part of figure 1 for working-age people) as “the Boomers” (which were not all born at once!) really do leave the work force (and, some ignorantly believe, cease to be politically and culturally relevent).

    Effect of Baby Boom on the Economy (STL Fed)

    One day when I was still in Upstate New York, I sat down and produced some tables, one of which showed the various years of the Boom and the year the Boomers would reach age 65 — not because that is old and a proper age for retirement (it is not; it is at least five years too early, particularly insofar as public benefits are concerned), but that has been the (outmoded) standard and that is when many will retire and begin to receive Social Security benefits. If I have time I’ll find the file(s) and repost their contents someplace on this site, to help those who need more information to grasp when the “big hit” on the Treasury and on the taxpayers starts growing in earnest. (Social Security is projected at this time to begin to run deficits beginning in 2017, the year thus when the serious problems begin, because to pay benefits in full will require new taxes or borrowing to cover the subsequently-growing deficits. Once again: Read the Trustee’s Summary!)

    Concern about the long-range financial outlook for Medicare and Social Security often focuses on the exhaustion dates for the HI and OASDI Trust Funds-the time when projected finances under current law would be insufficient to pay the full amount of scheduled benefits. A more immediate issue is the growing burden that the programs will place on the Federal budget well before the trust funds are exhausted. …

    Note that neither the redemption of trust fund bonds, nor interest paid on those bonds, provides any new net income to the Treasury, which must finance redemptions and interest payments through some combination of increased taxation, reductions in other government spending, or additional borrowing from the public. …

    To put these magnitudes into historical perspective, in 2006 the combined annual cost of HI, SMI, and OASDI amounted to 40 percent of total Federal revenues, or about 7 percent of GDP. That cost (as a percentage of GDP) is projected to double by 2042, and then to increase further to nearly 18 percent of GDP in 2081. It is noteworthy that over the past four decades, the average amount of total Federal revenues as a percentage of GDP has also been 18 percent, and has never exceeded 21 percent in a given year. Assuming the continued need to fund a wide range of other government functions, the projected growth in Social Security and Medicare costs would require that the total Federal revenue share of GDP increase to wholly unprecedented levels.

    When I was still in Upstate New York, I also developed a table showing each year’s dependency ratios, to illustrate the relative growth of the burden of public retirement programs to the taxpayers. However, readers can look at part 2, the second graph of Figure 1 in the PDF file, to see how dependency ratios (which also shows when the Boomers really are old, though not politically irrelevent as some would suppose) rise beginning four to five years from now.

    It’s going to be different in 20 years, when about half the Baby Boomers are retired, than it is now!

    If you don’t think Boomers will be politically relevent and active at that time, think again.

  • DLS

    Hillary Clinton is the right person to take the presidency right now because under her husband there was no worry about Social Security because it was in fine shape as was the economy

    Shit. Just like the obstructionist Democrats recently with Social Security, who did nothing when the had yet another chance to rescue the program, and didn’t — and we heard nonsense from Dems like Hinchey: “Social Security will be more valuable later if we leave it alone now.” Arrgh.

    ABSOLUTELY FALSE. Social Security was and remains unsustainable, which is what you’ll hear from any and every intelligent, honest, knowledgeable person. You need to learn the facts — ignorance of Social Security and its inherently defective nature is bliss that will only make the pain worse later.

    I warned readers, again, to read the Trustee’s Report, in an earlier posting. (The problems with Social Security and Medicare will be serious and will become an enormous political issue with the Boomers as well as with the taxpayers of the future.)

    Here is the most important thing you need to know, again, from the report.

    Concern about the long-range financial outlook for Medicare and Social Security often focuses on the exhaustion dates for the HI and OASDI Trust Funds-the time when projected finances under current law would be insufficient to pay the full amount of scheduled benefits. A more immediate issue is the growing burden that the programs will place on the Federal budget well before the trust funds are exhausted. …

    Note that neither the redemption of trust fund bonds, nor interest paid on those bonds, provides any new net income to the Treasury, which must finance redemptions and interest payments through some combination of increased taxation, reductions in other government spending, or additional borrowing from the public. …

    To put these magnitudes into historical perspective, in 2006 the combined annual cost of HI, SMI, and OASDI amounted to 40 percent of total Federal revenues, or about 7 percent of GDP. That cost (as a percentage of GDP) is projected to double by 2042, and then to increase further to nearly 18 percent of GDP in 2081. It is noteworthy that over the past four decades, the average amount of total Federal revenues as a percentage of GDP has also been 18 percent, and has never exceeded 21 percent in a given year. Assuming the continued need to fund a wide range of other government functions, the projected growth in Social Security and Medicare costs would require that the total Federal revenue share of GDP increase to wholly unprecedented levels.

    YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

  • DLS

    [I’ll be kind about the blatantly false statement that Bush ruined Social Security. He has done nothing, and the Democrats have obstructed any overdue reform and rescue effort. It will be more painful later as a consequence.]

    Hillary also worked for universal health care during her husbands presidency a platform that she is standing on now, when our country is in desparate need of such a thing

    There is no “desperate need” for universal (federal government provided) health care. It simply is one option that is now in the mainstream, not just on the far left lunatic fringe any longer. If we replace private health care with federal health care (even if the providers remain nominally, though not actually and truly, private, perhaps so the lawsuit gravy train is not derailed — could even have mandatory large-payoff malpractice insurance to boost the loads of gravy) we will exchange one set of problems with another. There never will be an escape from health care costs and eventual cost controls and likely rationing.

  • DLS

    I feel that it is definately not the time for Obama.

    It’s not his time, J-Dogg. Hillary C. has the Dem nomination pretty much locked up. In the middle of the first posting I made on this thread, you’ll find a Pew report on the state of things prior to the first three elections (beginning at the start of next month and year, here in Iowa). Iowa has stronger-than-normal Obama support and still Clinton is obviously strong. It is not an early-election fluke, either. (The Pew report includes nation-wide data as well as data for Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina Dems.) The moment Clinton announced she was running, many of us expected her to win the nomination. It is my opinion she has over a 50% chance of winning her re-entry into the White House. The GOP field is weak.

    She’s back. Deal with it, America…

    This thread’s subject is Obama, and where he fits into this is as follows: He appears not to want to be Her Highness’s VP, which is a shame because the two of them would be the strongest possible ticket (look at Obama’s numbers versus Edwards’s) as well as the most interesting, and it would put Obama in perfect position to succeed Clinton in 2012 or 2016.

  • domajot

    Scrolling right past the ranting,
    I think Hillary has the POTENTIAL for being a competent president. Aside from the acidity of the Clinlton name on the Right CDS) the campaing has revealed some questionable political choices. You can escuse some, as no candidate will be faultelss, but the accumulation is becoming a real problem.
    Too many shades of Giuliani and Bush, there.

    The change Obama represents becomes more attractive by the day. He is a personality to be reckoned with. I’ve watched him be grilled in a tough interview, and he maintainged his composure and stayed on message without the least trouble.

    The lack of experience can be overcome by his intelleigence and ability to learn, as well as with help of good advisers. Reportedly, his advisers are many and of good quality.

  • pacatrue

    Considering the issue of the role of the boomers in the political culture, I agree (though I too scanned some there) with DLS that they will certainly continue to be relevant for another 15 years or so. Particularly in primaries in which retirement age voters have time and passion and organization.

    That said, I am with Pete in that sometimes it does seem that people under 50 are operating under the terms established by the previous generations. Vietnam, the counter culture, the second wave of feminism, even the moral majority (though that’s about 10 years later), are all sides drawn up by an earlier group, not by people in their 30s and 40s now. Liberals are supposed to be weak on defense according to conventional wisdom not so much for current positions as because that’s how the line was drawn in 1967. Republicans are supposed to be the party of small government, not so much because of anything in the current platform, but because of the Barry Goldwater tradition.

    And yet I see little evidence that people in the 30s and 40s are any more accommodating of others than 50s and 60s. It’s just slightly different battle lines.

  • DLS

    increased taxation, reductions in other government spending, or additional borrowing from the public

    That begins in 2017 according to the latest Trustees’ projections, J-Dogg, and get worse every year for long thereafter.

    Abolishing the Social Security tax income cap (a tax increase, which would be unfair without raising benefits for those affected) without raising benefits for those affected would only delay the start of this by a few years at most.

    Social Security is not in perfect shape, J-Dogg. (To all readers, not only J-Dogg) The Social Security Administration has looked at abolishing the income cap and a number of other choices (several) for trying to improve the future condition of Social Security and I will provide a link to it so you can see it for yourselves. The critical piece of information in each case that you need to look at is not “trust fund exhaustion” (this has always been the wrong thing to rely on, and what the politicians use and often lie about), but the “Annual Balance” column. The year the deficits begin is the year there must be tax increases, more borrowing, or benefit reductions. There is no alternative, no avoidance of this.

    Table 14, “Eliminate the taxable maximum for payroll tax but retain the taxable maximum for benefit calculations,” (Don’t adjust benefits for those taxed more, which is unfair) the solution many believe will “fix Social Security easily, forever,” will only delay the start of deficits by a few years — approximately ten years if not less. Adjusting benefits for tax increases only
    makes the deficits begin one year earlier because so few people are at the income levels of interest — see Table 15.

    The report is here.

  • DLS

    people under 50 are operating under the terms established by the previous generations

    The last, greatest achievements of liberalism before its descent into dysfunction, civil rights and women’s rights, are mainstream, widely accepted and as normal, and even are the basis of criticism of other nations and cultures by conservatives as well as liberals. “There is no going back.”

  • DLS

    Republicans are supposed to be the party of small government, not so much because of anything in the current platform, but because of the Barry Goldwater tradition.

    The New Deal won, he lost, in 1964. Attempts at reform and return to constitutional federalism and limitation of government, Washington most of alll, are demonized and the subject of lies and slander.
    Plenty of Republicans are happy with oversized, overly powerful and interventionist government in Washington (a cause along with Iraq for the 1996 anti-GOP vote). They just want Washington to advance their own interests rather than liberals’ and Democrats’.

  • pacatrue

    DLS, we are largely in agreement with your last two comments. Your comment 10 is what I was attempting to say. The majorities in both parties are quite happy with big government as long as it’s for their causes, and yet one party is still perceived as the party of small government due to struggles of 30 years ago. As for your comment 9, I actually think as well that there are ways for people to re-align regarding issues of individual rights, but again we are stuck enough in the historical battles and the lines drawn there, that such potential allies are ignored or dismissed.

  • DLS

    one party is still perceived as the party of small government due to struggles of 30 years ago

    Yes, and the continued efforts of the other party to make the already-far-too-large government in DC larger than the first party would. That’s despite an enormous growth in spending by the first party, as well as replacement of taxes with debt (something particularly bad, but a separate issue than growth of government).

    I read a writeup that had errors in it, possibly from shared attitudes among the person and his peers (it was an Objectivist publication — had “Objective” in the publication’s title, which raised my eyebrows, and I looked and confirmed this) but it was a good beating-up of the big-government Republicans.

    [non-liberals as well as traditionalist conservatives as well as liberals will enjoy the beating, even if the liberals won’t like some of what is said]

    “The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism”

  • DLS

    It’s time to move on. And I agree with Sullivan that Obama is more than just a compelling candidate; he is a potential signal that the days of Boomer dominance are waning.

    FYI: Obama is a Boomer.

  • DLS

    they will certainly continue to be relevant for another 15 years or so

    Yes, or even longer insofar as their aged existence and public health and income protection programs are concerned, as well as retirement consumption habits. The Boomers aren’t retiring yet; they will begin to retire soon and will really retire in large numbers several years from now. The increase will be noticed in the 2010s and the problems will become substantial in the 2020s. (The numbers of retirees will become quite large and continuing to increase, while by then Social Security will be running deficits and require new taxes or borrowing, or benefit reductions. And by then Medicare expenses are going to be huge.)

  • T-Steel

    The conversation in this post (while stimulating and informative) is why I’ve never voted Democrat or Republican. I’ve just voted obscure 3rd party or written myself in as a protest. Boomers, ‘Bama, Gen-X… Blah! I’m about fixing and improving “things” in a President. I see no fixers and/or “improvers” running for President so I abstain with a meaningless vote.

    But please continue the stimulating conversation.

  • KevinA

    DLS’s nonsense aside, I do wish to confront one of his “claims,” that only liberals see Iraq as a Vietnam proxy.

    Read Rudy in Foreign Affairs: Here.

    In it he says,America must remember one of the lessons of the Vietnam War. Then, as now, we fought a war with the wrong strategy for several years. And then, as now, we corrected course and began to show real progress. Many historians today believe that by about 1972 we and our South Vietnamese partners had succeeded in defeating the Vietcong insurgency and in setting South Vietnam on a path to political self-sufficiency. But America then withdrew its support, allowing the communist North to conquer the South. The consequences were dire, and not only in Vietnam: numerous deaths in places such as the killing fields of Cambodia, a newly energized and expansionist Soviet Union, and a weaker America. The consequences of abandoning Iraq would be worse.

    BOTH sides of the Boomer divide can’t bleeping shut up about a war that ended 32+ yrs. ago. Move beyond it already!

    Pete: I do fear you might be right that Obama’s very rationale (generational change) might be his undoing.

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