‘Bama v. Boomers
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.