Generation Gap

As David von Drehle says, this is turning out to be the year of the youth vote.

If you want to feel old, just tell a group of teenagers today that you can remember a time when the Clintons were hip. There was this guy on TV, see, called Arsenio Hall, and Bill Clinton went on wearing sunglasses and playing a saxophone, and, well, no, it wasn’t on YouTube — this was before most people had heard of the Internet — oh, never mind. There’s nothing new, for today’s young people, about a Clinton replacing a Bush.

Claire McCaskill’s daughter, to take one newly eligible voter, was all of 2 years old when that happened the first time. The Gingrich revolution came during her pre-K years; impeachment was around second grade. In other words, no matter how many times Hillary Clinton intones the magic word of 2008 — change — it’s going to ring a bit hollow, because she is an eternal piece of their mental furniture.

Obama, by contrast, radiates the new. He doesn’t just talk about change; he looks like change. His person and his platform are virtually indistinguishable. Obama, like Tiger Woods and Angelina Jolie, has one of those faces that seem beamed from a postracial future, when everyone will have a permanent, noncarcinogenic tan. He has small kids and a low BMI. His voice rumbles with authority, but his ears stick out like Opie Taylor’s. His campaign is crawling with cool young people, and the candidate fits right in. We’ve yet to see Obama flustered or harried; instead, he gives off the enigmatic Zen confidence of the guy who is picked first for every game.

Being out of touch with Youth is something one gets used to after a while. I realized many years ago that, to youth, I am an alien in their world. I accept this. This is not a value judgment; it’s just how it is. In fact, I’ve reached the age at which the people who used to be the youth I was alien to are now becoming the new aliens to new youth. If that makes sense.

At The Guardian, Suzanne Goldenberg posts a video in which she talks to students at the University of Missouri, my alma mater. (None of the campus looked familiar. I think it was sacked by barbarians and rebuilt at least a couple of times since I was there.) The most intriguing point made by Goldenberg is that the earliest political memory of these young folks is the Ken Starr witch hunt of the Clintons. It seems to have left them with a revulsion to scorched-earth partisan warfare, which is one of the reasons they are flocking to Barack Obama.

Older people are more jaded, which is what happens to most of us who live past Youth. To paraphrase something someone said in an email, Obama’s “post-partisan” message works with Youth and not so much with DOFHs (i.e., DFHs who devolved into geezers) because we geezers lived through the political ugliness of the 1980s and 1990s, whereas younger voters either don’t comprehend how bad it was or believe that Obama can somehow bring it to an end.

I don’t think Obama can bring it to an end. However, all things that had a beginning will also have an end, including the whackjob Right’s dominance of politics. And I think what can end it, or at least chase it into the shadows for a couple of decades, is an overwhelming crush of public opinion against it. And if the young folks can lead us to that, good for them. I’ll follow.

I’ve been saying all along that the real task ahead of us is to heal the nation’s sick political culture. This will take a Really Big Movement, not just one leader. However, it would be good to have a leader who will allow himself to be led. As Tom Hayden says,

Are we the people we have been waiting for? Barack Obama is giving voice and space to an awakening beyond his wildest expectations, a social force that may lead him far beyond his modest policy agenda. Such movements in the past led the Kennedys and Franklin Roosevelt to achievements they never contemplated. (As Gandhi once said of India’s liberation movement, “There go my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.”)

Truly great leaders are great because they transcend themselves and become the embodiment of the best ideals of the people. Lincoln, FDR and JFK, to a greater or lesser extent, achieved this. I don’t know if Obama has it or if he’s good at faking it. However, I do not believe Senator Clinton, for all her smarts and talent, is capable of leadership on that level. If she were, I think we would have seen it by now. Although she talks about change, what she’s really offering is her proven ability to finesse the status quo, not change it.

Lorenza Muñoz writes at the Los Angeles Times,

I don’t recall ever disagreeing with my mother politically.

Until now.

Our differences are so profound that we are tiptoeing around the subject, heeding the age-old advice never to discuss politics. It has gotten ugly. She calls me foolhardy, ignorant and a traitor to my gender. I tell her she is irrational, blind and stuck in the past.

I am an ardent Barack Obama backer. She is a passionate Hillary Clinton supporter. She is 67; I am 36.

It’s a fascinating piece. To the senior Muñoz, Senator Clinton embodies the struggles women of her generation faced. To the younger Muñoz, Senator Clinton embodies the struggles her mother’s generation faced but which are no longer relevant.

I’m closer to Mama’s age than to Daughter’s, but I spend enough time with younger feminist bloggers to understand that the way younger women see themselves and their sexuality and the Cause are pretty alien from the way I see these things. But I’ve learned to shut up about it. My kids are grown, and my biological clock stopped ticking sometime in the last millennium. At this point my biggest barriers are ageism and osteoarthritis. Feminism is not my fight any more. Young women have to deal with the world they inherited, not the one I grew up in, which is long gone. I can offer young women my support and encouragement, but not my advice.

Speaking of the good old days — I have long thought that one cannot understand the 1960s counterculture without understanding the 1950s. Looked at in a vacuum, the counterculture might seem frivolous and self-indulgent. But to me it was a healthy and natural reaction to the repression and hyper-conformity of the 1950s.

Similarly, the young folks may be gearing up to a kind of political counterculture, one that attempts to sweep away the toxic acrimony and pseudo-conservative insanity of the past couple of decades. They want freshness. They want a whole new political culture. Maybe they’re naive. But, folks, they’re right.

See also Katharine Mieszkowski, “Young Voters Are Stoked.”

Update: Let’s hear it from the young folks. See also Blogdiva.

26 thoughts on “Generation Gap

  1. Barack has said, “Nothing can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for change”. Would be that this were true.

    But Yes we can is now an athem. It is the present breathing hope for the Progressive agenda those of us with silver hair pine for.

    When Teddy conceded in 1980, his concluding line was, “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die”.

    But within the bulk of that incredible speech lies the guiding principles of the modern Democratic Party,

    “As Democrats we recognize that each generation of Americans has a rendezvous with a different reality. The answers of one generation become the questions of the next generation. But there is a guiding star in the American firmament. It is as old as the revolutionary belief that all people are created equal, and as clear as the contemporary condition of Liberty City and the South Bronx. Again and again Democratic leaders have followed that star and they have given new meaning to the old values of liberty and justice for all.

    We are the Party — We are the Party of the New Freedom, the New Deal, and the New Frontier. We have always been the Party of hope. So this year let us offer new hope, new hope to an America uncertain about the present, but unsurpassed in its potential for the future”.

    This was twenty eight year ago. This year I hope it will be Hillary giving the concession speech in Denver because she can’t do this. Simply restoring the country to it’s pre-criminal regime status is aiming too low.

  2. I think it is really important not to stereotype voters according to age, gender or race. I am 68 so I am old enough to remember JFK. He was inspiring to me and I feel Obama is evoking the same reaction in today’s young voters. However, he is also evoking that reaction in me that JFK did. Since I am female, old and white, it has to be something else. Perhaps I am easily led astray. However, I don’t think so because I spent almost 30 yrs. as a psych nurse and I became very jaded but also able to zero in on what a person is really like.
    On the other hand, my daughter is 47. She does not share my feelings about Obama and she says she would definitely not vote for Hillary. So go figure!
    I believe the time on earth is right for a BIG change in all areas. Whether or not Obama is to be a significant figure in that change, I cannot foresee. However, he cannot do it alone. Ultimately, it will be up to the people (you & me) to demand change and follow through to get it. He can lead but us sheeples have to follow.
    Sometimes I do get the fear that if Obama does get elected and he sticks to his guns and tries to implement changes that certain special interests do not want, it could be dangerous to his health. That may be because I believe that is why JFK, RFK and MLK had to die. They just wouldn’t go along with the status quo.
    In any event, change will come. That is the one thing we can count on.

  3. It’s weird indeed to have lived long enough to see the political pendulum swing back to the point where an RFK clone like Obama is skyrocketing on a tsunami sized swell of youth-fueled popularity, bypassing that formerly hip couple from the 90s, Bill and Hill. Can bell bottoms and long hair be far behind?

    Whether Obama is for real, and whether he can do anything significant about the noxious cancer that has eaten away this country, or (as we fear) be sliced and diced by the same, I’m willing to climb that wave with him and give the kids a chance.

    As some very famous, but now obscure troubadors from my generation once sang: “what a long, strange trip it’s been”. You kids wouldn’t understand.

  4. Somebody referred to the Clinton years as ‘penthouse politics’ in action. Professional Democrats have been controlling the party for way too long. The Clintons, Ickes, McAuliffe, Emanuel, Carville and Schumer, the power base of the party has never practiced the principles of the Democratic party. They have assiduously pursued whatever will keep them in power – to hell with us. ‘Triangulation’ is their dirty little cover story and it’s time to sack it and them.

    The ‘kids’ – and Obama – probably scare them to death. (Power is tough to give up.)

    Electing Hillary will put her, and Bill of course, in the WH for a third term. She admits it when she constantly refers to her years of experience. I seriously doubt she’s leaving out her eight years in the WH when she says it.

  5. As a DOFH, I do recall the JFK hoopla, but I also remember the reaction after Clinton was elected in ’92: all the 20-somethings were saying “just get out of our way, it’s our turn now.” I thought at the time and I think now that all this youth power is not going to last.

    After all, practically the first thing that happened to Clinton was the push from gays for better treatment in the military; dealing with that further weakened Clinton’s already troubled relationship with the Joint Chiefs.

    Speaking as a former kid myself and remembering some of the things that seemed so obvious to me back in the 60’s, you can’t have it all right away. Some things you have to work and build. Enthusiasm may be necessary but it is not sufficient.

    And if you think this grumpy old fart is looking forward to Pres. Hillary, read this on Bill’s going along with the big Bush coverup (scroll down to Not Good at Confrontation). Only problem is that if this was how bi-partisanship worked for him, will it work any better for Obama?

  6. Obama is the only option we have that can possibly bear fruit. Listen to his South Carolina victory speech. What he says is profound in the simplest terms. He doesn’t claim to be our hope, he offers to be the vehicle of our hope by listening and being responsive to our power. It’s the same dynamic as Gandhi spoke of..lead by following. I’m as jaded as the next guy when it comes to believing a politician can rise up to a calling greater than their own self interest,but Obama has inspired me to believe and hope. I trust him.

    Vamanos Obama ! Si, se puede.

  7. When I want to read something really thoughtful I come here to this blog. And the comments reflect the same high standard set by Maha! Great reading.
    Not much I can add. I was a young idealistic Irishman who had just became an American citizen when Bobby Kennedy was shot. I so admired what he stood for…and still mourn his passing.
    I worked for Ted Kennedy when he ran for President. Again, disappointment with the outcome.
    After all these years I still have hope that we can cure the cancer that has been destroying our society for the past two decades. I’ll vote for Barack Obama next Tuesday in the Massachusetts primary as an expression of this hope.

  8. Man, I am barely into my 30’s and now I feel old when I remember that Arsenio Hall episode.

    But I’m not old enough either to remember what a long, strange trip it was, so I feel a little stuck in the middle.

    Either way, I agree with Maha, Obama–NOT Hillary–is our only chance against the rightie whackjobs. And while younger people may be naive, they are also smart enough to see that what we’ve been doing for the last 8 years isn’t working (I hope).

  9. As always, Maha’s post has stimulated many things in my head to talk about; but, I think I will narrow it down to this particularly thought. Like Maha, I am not a supporter of Hillary. I am very skeptical at what she would even try to achieve. If she were to become President, she would, as Maha said, “finesse the status quo, not change it”–after all, her first four years would be about getting re-elected However, I applaud her for running and for running a pretty good campaign. For us to get to that place where a woman will be President, someone has to try and, perhaps, fail before the one woman breaks through the glass ceiling and wins. Hillary is an important pioneer; and, I hope she gets credit for the trail she is blazing for other women–if she doesn’t win.

    If she wins, I hope she will be a good enough President to keep the trend going.

  10. Beautifully put Barbara, and I’d only make one objection. Having read you for years, you certainly provide plenty of valuable advice. They may not heed it, as some younger adults are wont to do, but then they must repeat some errors to rise to the next step.

    Yes, the world’s advance is largely defined by the young and yes, us ‘elders’ regularly have to shake off the dust of the past so we may become ‘unstuck in time’ (a la Billy Pilgrim) and embrace the infinity of change. And the wisest of both will not let the sweetbread between them grow stale by shutting each other out as they both have wisdom and great spirits to share.

    One cannot proclaim post-partisanship honestly if some irrelevant dividing lines disappear and other irrelevant ones are chiselled deeper into the stone.

    Your words are rich and until we reach a level of drooling semi-consciousness, provide moments of treasure to the finder.

  11. Pingback: American Street » Blog Archive » Yes, We Can! - Si, Se Puede!

  12. Pingback: Barack Obama for President of the United States of America « cannablog

  13. Great post. Barbara. BTW, You DO carry the torch for the feminist movement with your outspoken defense of the control women must have over their own bodies. Other than that false modesty, you were ‘right on’.

    Apathy and a general feeling of helplessness have been the great allies of the conservative movement. ‘I can’t do anything about it – except drive my blood presure up.’ has been the general attitude of my generation. And year after year the youth seem split into two camps: those who did not believe thay could fight against injustice (and win), and those who were focussed on the pursuit of the allmighty dollar.

    For a long time, I have been waiting for a youth movement to challenge the establishment. I am quite aware that as my hair turns silver and I grow a dome on the back of my head, I will be mistaken for establishment because, for all of their energy, the eyesight of youth is not all that good. But I don’t mind having to prove my credentials as a liberal, and I am not offended by new ideas. I’m an old Doug who can learn new tricks.

    My fear was that they would never wake up (or awaken too late). My hope is that we are seeing the groundswell of a youth movement, an awakening. My prayer (a very sincere & non-denominational one) is that we will have a leader who can direct the energy of the tsumani. That’s why this primary matters.

  14. You are being taken in. Obama is not a real Democrat. Read what Obama said was the reason that people voted for Reagan.

    “I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

    The excesses and growth of the government were what the Democrats did. It was Medicare, the Great Society, The Environmental Movement, Civil Rights, Progressive taxation, Government Regulation of Corporations and the Gay Rights Movement. Calling them excesses is Republican language. Most Democrats didn’t think they went far enough. And the Optimism was against the honest soul searching that Americans had after Vietnam and Watergate of our place in the world. And lets not forget that Reagan’s rose colored glasses made those suffering from aids invisible.

  15. maxstar212, dear, learn to read. Obama was saying that’s what people at the time felt, and like it or not, he’s right. That’s what people felt. Whether they were right to feel that way is another matter.

    For more clarification, read Eric Zorn.

  16. That’s what people felt.

    Got any evidence for that besides personal memories? Because that’s not how I remember it.

    The Zorn column is hardly clarification. The column is mostly about Reagan, but the two Clinton quotes are not referring to that part of the Obama’s statement. It is true that Obama never says the ideas were better, but he didn’t criticize them either. And just how were the Republicans challenging the conventional wisdom in the 90’s? As I recall, they were the conventional wisdom.

  17. Because that’s not how I remember it.

    The famous “tax and spend liberal” talking point dates from LBJ’s Great Society programs — lots of racism involved in the backlash to that, of course — and in 1980 Ronald Reagan was still running on that. Welfare queens? Remember now?

    I don’t agree entirely with what Obama said in that quote, but to try to spin him into some right-wing manchurian candidate because of it is ludicrous.

  18. Actually, this is what I had in mind:

    I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.

    Racism, yeah, I remember that, but I also remember that Carter had survived an attack from the Democratic left (Teddy Kennedy) and was still ahead of Reagan until the last week before the election. Where was all that tremendous groundswell sweeping Reagan into office?

    Note that I said nothing personal about Obama. I don’t appreciate the Manchurian candidate crack in responding to me–your standards used to be higher.

  19. Change? A smile that broad to replace a smirk: a stride, not a swagger: a mind, not a mind-set. Yes We Can!

  20. Feminism is not my fight any more.

    I turned 50 last summer, so in a way I understand that statement; but I do feel it’s still my fight, as long as my niece (who turns 13 this month) is in the world, or her daughters are in the world. What they need, in order to be themselves, I will fight for.

    So it will be wonderful if the younger voters give us a young, Democratic president in 2008; but I have to wonder… were they too young to vote in 2004? Or did they just not realize that that election was important too?

  21. Obama is hiding behind a mask that he’s cultivated since the age of 14, which he readily acknowledges: “If you don’t make them angry, they’ll like you.” How does that translate into really stopping Republicans?? As for the “youth vote”–expect to be hugely disappointed when his privatizer consultants (Liebman) screw with Social Security…his GOP framing of issues gives him away. He’s already conceded a lot of ground, on top of the present Congress already being milquetoasts. You trust this guy??? Don’t be fooled…It’s all about OBAMA, not YOU!! Short term benefits for him, long time problems for us.

  22. PS…the Reagan comments were the least of it…,it was the generally ignored comments from the same interview about his not being “invested” in the struggles of the 60s-70s that got me riled…As did the cavalier dismissal of Viet Nam as a reference point (I guess being lied about then and NOW really is irrelevant?) Lack of interest in history is not a strength…

  23. GRL — So we’ve got a choice between someone who might sell us out and someone with a history of selling us out. Fine. If you want a perfect candidate, go live on Fantasy Island. Good-bye.

  24. POP QUIZ Healing 101 10 points.

    Which of our current Presidential candidates has called for the rejection of fear?

  25. Obama’s empty rhetoric won’t work in the general election, uniting the country after 40 years of civil rights backlash, and thinking financial interests will just roll over and let him remake the political system. These are ridiculous ideas, crafted for you. Ya’ll are too young to have seen the Clinton’s spectacular governing record, but they are the only ones who can handle the media and republicans. You are going to throw the election away, like the Nader people did when he told them there was no difference between the parties. I can’t bear it.

  26. ya’ll are too young to have seen the Clinton’s spectacular governing record

    Excuse me? I’m 56 years old. I remember the bleeping Eisenhower Administration.

    Clinton’s governing record was very good — better than average — but I wouldn’t call it spectacular. I do remember it.

    Obama has shown a stronger ability to attract independent and moderate Republican voters than Clinton. Clinton, unfortunately, is more likely to unify Republicans to come out and vote against her. I will support either one of them who is the nominee, but I believe Obama would be the stronger candidate in the general election against John McCain.

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