Thursday, November 13, 2008

Barack Boomer

With the election of Barack Obama, we finally have a leader that crosses barriers. A man that unites two very separate aspects of the American Experience by firmly straddling a divide that has been the cause of acrimony and bitterness for a long, long time. His very existence causes both camps to claim him as their own even though he is really neither.

No, I’m not talking about Race, this is about something way more important. It’s about a generational divide. Baby Boomers versus the rest of us. A baton has been passed. Take this passage from Gail Collins of the New York Times.
Finally, on behalf of the baby-boom generation, I would like to hear a little round of applause before we cede the stage to the people who were too young to go to Woodstock and would appreciate not having to listen to the stories about it anymore. It looks as though we will be represented in history by only two presidents, one of whom is George W. Bush. Bummer.
Despite their very different styles, both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were born in 1946 right at the start of the post-war baby boom. Clearly a milestone has been reached. We have gone beyond the most self-absorbed and self-important generation in our history. Those of us younger than these older boomers have had to live in the shadow of their accomplishments and experiences. Heather Havrilesky of Salon (who is so Gen-X she has turned being a couch potato into career) sees Obama’s election as vindication of Generation X.
Dear boomers: We're sorry for rolling our eyes at you all these years. We apologize for scoffing at your earnestness, your lack of self-deprecation, your tendency to take yourselves a little too seriously. We can go ahead and admit now that we grew tired of hearing about the '60s and the peace movement, as if you had to live through those times to understand anything at all.
But when we watched Barack Obama's victory speech on Tuesday night, we looked into the eyes of a real leader, and decades of cynicism about politics and grass-roots movements and community melted away in a single moment. We heard the voice of a man who can inspire with his words, who's unashamed of his own intelligence, who's willing to treat the citizens of this country like smart, capable people, worthy of respect. For the first time in some of our lifetimes, we believed.
But isn’t Barack technically a baby boomer? He was born in 1961, well before the technical end of the baby boom which is usually pegged at 1964, the year I was born. I self-identify as many things including as Irish and red-headed and geeky, even though each of those is debatable. What I do not consider myself is a baby boomer. I have nothing in common with the typical stereotype of the drug-taking, free-loving, psychedelic hippie. I came of political age in the Reagan Era which cannot possibly be more different than the Summer of Love.

So what is Barack? If the defining moment of the Baby Boom was Woodstock, Obama, who was only eight at the time, has no claim to it. He was only two when Kennedy was assassinated (and I was in vitro). He never got to march for his civil rights, but instead had to fulfill the promise that those pioneers blazed. He didn’t have to fight to sit at a lunch counter, but he broke the final barrier. He never marched against a war, but now has to lead us out of one.

No, he is not a boomer. But he has the chance to finish everything they started.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Is Barack a Boomer? If not, what is he (besides Muslim)?


Anonymous said...

Thought-provoking post and blog. There really isn't a technical definition of the Baby Boom Generation, only of the demographic boom in births that lasted from 1946 to 1964. Relevant to your comments is the fact that many experts have argued that there were two distinct generations born during that period: the Boomers (born from around 1942-1953 and Generation Jones (born from around 1954-1965).

I've noticed quite a bit of buzz about GenJones in the context of this election; I saw several discussions on national TV about Obama being a Joneser, as well as about GenJones voters being a key swing vote.

You may find this link interesting, my friends and I have been linking people to this page because we think it matters: it has a bunch of print excerpts and videos of big time publications (e.g. The New York Times, Newsweek, etc.) and pundits (e.g. David Brooks, Clarence Page, etc.) all talking about Obama’s identity as part of Generation Jones:

yellojkt said...

Thanks for your excellent comment. The splitting of the Baby Boomers is something I'm going to address in a future post. I'm not real keen of Generation Jones because it makes me think of "Basketball Jones" and I don't need that kind of ear worm.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I'm very pleased by that graph, because it indicates that my birthdate (1974) is smack in the middle of the demographic trough. Assuming Obama spreads enough wealth around to allow Social Security to survive the boomers, by the time I want to retire I'll be supported by millions of millenials at the height of their earning power.

Anonymous said...

Well, the Fourth Turning guys, put Obama at the very beginning of the 13th generation, which is rather an uninspired name. We're Nomads like the Lost generation and we get to put an end to the crisis caused by the culture wars and save society. The good news is that we get to be old during a high.

yellojkt said...

You are going to have to smother all the baby boomers older than you to get them off of the Medicare rolls in order to have enough money left over for you to retire.

A Free Man said...

Great post! I've been waiting for this generational shift for a few years now. Generational boundaries are kind of a fluid thing, so whether the transition was 1960, 1964 or whatever, Obama definitely represents a different generation than the Boomers. Hallelujah!

2fs said...

I'm impressed: two of my most peeve-irking concepts in a single post. First, the notion that folks born in 1961 (I was born that year a few months after our President-Elect) are baby boomers. In some strictly technical sense, maybe - but if "generations" mean anything culturally, no way. As Mr. Jkt points out, "drug-taking, free-loving, psychedelic hippie" is the boomer stereotype. They got Woodstock, we got AIDS. Culturally, the world in which boomers and we 1961 folks entered adulthood are radically different.

Oh, and the other peeve-o-licious concept? The ridiculously named "Generation Jones," a term no actual person has ever used (note: journalists are not, for this purpose, actual persons). I would say the cutoff point culturally is those who were in their later teens by Nixon's resignation; after that, the sixties was well and truly dead, its seventies hangover a-dyin', and with the rise of Falwell and the born-agains, and the election of Reagan, a whole different world.

I think we should call them "Generation Smiths" after Morrissey's old band: we're miserable, pretentious, but have a sense of humor ;-)

yellojkt said...

Great rant, 2fs. And like "fetch" in Mean Girls, "Generation Jones" is just never going to happen.

Mooselet said...

I don't know that you can define someone simply by the year they were born. My mother, for example, was born in 1946 and while she dressed the part she was no drug-takin' free-lovin' sort of hippie, nor does she fit the conventional Boomer mold now. Her older brother, on the other hand, does.

I was born in 1969, so I'm free and clear of the Boomer tag by many years. I am saddled with the Gen X tag instead, or sometimes the Baby Bust one, but whatever you want to call it I think Obama is part of it rather than the Boomers.

yellojkt said...

You're right mooselet, there is a group between the baby boomers and GenX (of which you may or may not be an early member). That is what I discuss in this post.