Pretend Primary: Generational Politics
As we enter the homestretch in our Washington area Pretend Presidential Primary--be sure to be here two weeks from today, Dec. 13, for the big vote, well ahead of the Iowa or New Hampshire contests--let's look at a topic that's not strictly local, but perhaps has more resonance in Virginia, Maryland and the District than in some other parts of the country.
There's been little overt discussion in this campaign of generational politics--of the role the candidates' ages has in their political formation and approach, and in how they would lead the nation. But the rifts and polarization brought to us by the boomer generation are very much at the heart of the '08 election, and it may be helpful to consider how their age and experience colors the candidates' attractiveness as potential presidents.
Virginia of late has seeped itself in the culture wars that stem from the Vietnam War. And as befits a state with a fast-changing population and a new demographic bulge of post-boomers, Virginia is changing in fascinating and contradictory ways. It's no longer a dependably Republican, conservative state in the Reaganesque sense of the idea, but neither is it anything close to a Democratic, liberal stronghold. Rather, Virginia is a much more interesting blend of ideologies and practical realities than anything you'll find in most presidential campaigns. Maryland is easier to stereotype politically, but even there, we've seen more of a blend of political passions than the national presidential campaigns like to admit to.
What we're seeing in the Washington region, as in some other parts of the country, is a new, post-Vietnam mix of leftish-libertarian social ideals with a healthy skepticism about power and money--all tempered by a genuine fear that our country has muffed the post-9/11 challenge and is on the way toward doing the same with both the future of our personal freedoms and the difficulty of our energy and environmental situations. What candidate speaks to that large middle of American voters, the folks who are turned off by the slogans of both right and left? None, really. So let's ask the next question: Which candidates are most likely to act in ways that that large middle group would find at least somewhat digestible?
The answer, my friends, is blowing through the pages of the calendar. Because while we have one certified pre-boomer who carries a classic set of Greatest Generation values with him--John McCain--we also have only one candidate who can be defined as at all post-boomer, and that would be Barack Obama, who is being touted by some observers--Andrew Sullivan in The Atlantic makes the case best--as the only way to escape the Vietnam/boomer/culture wars polarization and paralysis that infect our politics.
The rest of the crowd fits smack into the middle of the boomer demographic. Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Bill Richardson, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney would all be over 60 when inaugurated as president. Obama would be 47. John Edwards would be 55. Now, of course, age does not necessarily determine politics or personality, but many of this year's candidates are very much caught up in the rhetoric and ideas of their generation. Their ways of viewing the divisions in the country are defined by their experiences from Vietnam to the sexual and academic revolutions of the 60s and 70s to the media-hardened, culture war categories of later years. Obama, much as he promises to force Americans to look at race in a post-civil rights era manner, seems in his speeches at least to yearn for and promise a politics that considers irrelevant the brittle categories of recent years.
That doesn't mean Obama could actually deliver on that promise, of course. And there's a good argument that he is too green for the job (though the same argument seems compelling about Clinton, who has no more experience in elective office.)
Does age matter in this election? Do the life experiences these folks bring to their campaigns result in a different lens, a different way of attacking our problems?
(And what other topics, particularly those of regional interest, should we take up here in the last days before our Pretend Primary?)
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2007 9:20 AM
Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2007 10:00 AM
Posted by: Birdie | November 29, 2007 10:29 AM
Posted by: Josey23 | November 29, 2007 10:55 AM
Posted by: P.G. Gal | November 29, 2007 11:02 AM
Posted by: Peter Roach | November 29, 2007 11:34 AM
Posted by: Pragmatite | November 29, 2007 11:56 AM
Posted by: Gelf | November 29, 2007 1:40 PM
Posted by: Anonymous | November 30, 2007 8:44 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.