Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bye Bye, Boomers

I've been watching the Obama inauguration on the cable news channels all day and Pat Buchanan just said something on MSNBC that made me think (I know: Buchanan, what were the odds?) He and the other pundits were discussing parts of President Obama's inauguration speech, specifically this passage:

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights. Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.
I admit that it's a testament to my own partisanship (which I try very hard to control whenever possible but I'm only human) that when Obama spoke about the failures of the past and the challenges that he's inherited I immediately thought, "Damn, he's totally dissing George W. Bush while the guy's sitting right next to him!" Buchanan however had a slightly different take: he said that not only was Obama's criticism leveled at the Bush administration but that it was also an indictment of the Clinton administration before that and this gave me pause.

It's true: in the past Obama has never gone out of his way to avoid blaming Clinton for his failures as president, which I'm sure goes a long way toward explaining the animosity we saw between him and the Clintons during the election last year. But I think Obama meant for his words to convey an even more expansive message than what Buchanan has suggested. I think he meant for his condemnations to apply not just to the Bush and Clinton administrations but in fact to their entire generation, the Baby Boomers.

These two former presidents are not just members of this generation, they're personifications of the two opposing sides of the culture war that has defined it for almost half a century. Had Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination rather than Obama and maybe Giuliani the Republican one rather than McCain, we would have seen the absolute worst aspects of this ideological struggle played out against a national backdrop yet again, but mercifully we were spared this cultural bloodletting. Instead the main differences between the candidates last year became generational: Generation Jones supplanting the Boomers rather than the usual 60's infighting and this allowed Obama to win the argument.

So the Boomers are out and Obama has already acknowledged the historical nature and significance of this transition of power. When he speaks of change these are the concepts that principally go through my mind: new generations of Americans thinking up new ideas and new ways of doing things to tackle the old problems that have plagued us for so long now, actually instituting change in politics rather than callously paying that word mere lip service and working towards making the entire country better instead of catering only to certain interest groups or political parties. Obama has promised to be measured and pragmatic when confronting the struggles America faces in the 21st century, which to my mind will be a welcome shift from the last eight years of swaggering and shooting from the hip. Whether he becomes a successful leader governing this way or not remains to be seen but I still have hope, for every generation.


cracker said...

Well said JBW,

I think we'll be seeing more scholarly comparisons on this "boomer era"

The 16 to 20 year odyssey of incompletion, by the "me" generation is key to discovering the cores of many of our ills, the perversions of partys and politics, and quite honestly a myopia of ethics combined with a misunderstanding of the use of military might.

In of themselves both the Neo-Cons AND Neo- liberals are bastard orphan offspring of the boomer generations agendas, Both Clinton and GW.....

Since neither Clinton nor McCain got the job.....(truly a sign that God still loves the US) We may have averted another 20 years of division that may very well have ended up in a further undoing.

again, well said JBW

JBW said...

Thanks for the kind words, cracker. I've been listening to these guys laud themselves my entire life and I've gotten pretty sick of it. I'm glad their era is ending: it's our turn now.