Monday, January 14, 2008

Baby Boom to Fizzle

Work with me for a moment as I make some connections. Tell me if I'm force-feeding...
I've got a crazy work schedule and have had to write this in parts. And I won't have time to proofread or edit... enjoy.

When I discussed this piece by Andrew Sullivan about the significance of Barack Obama's candidacy, I was especially fascinated by the way he framed Obama's ascendancy as a fundamental change from the 40 years worth of baby boom-driven political battles:

Unlike any of the other candidates, he could take America—finally—past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us. So much has happened in America in the past seven years, let alone the past 40, that we can be forgiven for focusing on the present and the immediate future. But it is only when you take several large steps back into the long past that the full logic of an Obama presidency stares directly—and uncomfortably—at you.

At its best, the Obama candidacy is about ending a war—not so much the war in Iraq, which now has a mo­mentum that will propel the occupation into the next decade—but the war within America that has prevailed since Vietnam and that shows dangerous signs of intensifying, a nonviolent civil war that has crippled America at the very time the world needs it most. It is a war about war—and about culture and about religion and about race. And in that war, Obama—and Obama alone—offers the possibility of a truce.

When I think about the last 40 years, I can see it all unfold. The divisiveness of the Vietnam War. The backlash to the Civil Rights Movement. White flight. The rise of political evangelicalism. Phyllis Schlafly's undoing of the Equal Rights Amendment. Roe v. Wade. The Moral Majority. LGBT awareness.... And so on and so forth... The ebb and flow between cultural liberals and conservatives. The Clintons vs. the Bushes. The Kennedys vs. Reagan....

You can sense the way that several of these cultural issues: race, abortion, women's equality, and gay rights have, in one form or another, dominated the pitched political battles of the last 40 years. These cultural battles go on to inform our other debates. (i.e. the backlash to progressive social policies as a reaction to perceived racial entitlements; the push to force religion into the public sphere and changing cultural values in regards to the role of women in the family, the morality of sexual preferences)

You can also see the juxtaposition between Hillary Clinton, disciple of the women's movement and Barack Obama, who is too young to have taken a side on these issues on a national level.

Now, you can either agree or disagree with Mr. Sullivan's paradigm. I don't necessarily consider it to be an analysis of Mr. Obama's chance at winning this nomination.

It is, however, an extremely fascinating lens with which to examine the historical significance of this nomination fight.

And a lens that I think can be extended beyond representations of the differences between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton.
First, let's stay within the Democratic umbrella. Behold this op-ed from today's Washington Post that tracks the reluctance of traditional African American political leaders to endorse Senator Obama.

The most amazing thing about the 2008 presidential race is not that a black man is a bona fide contender, but the lukewarm response he has received from the luminaries whose sacrifices made this run possible...

...That's because, positioned as he is between the black boomers and the hip-hop generation, Obama is indebted, but not beholden, to the civil rights gerontocracy. A successful Obama candidacy would simultaneously represent a huge leap forward for black America and the death knell for the reign of the civil rights-era leadership -- or at least the illusion of their influence.

The most recent example of the old guard's apparent aversion to Obama was Andrew Young's febrile YouTube ramblings about Bill Clinton being "every bit as black as Barack Obama" and his armchair speculation that Clinton had probably bedded more black women during his lifetime than the senator from Illinois -- as if racial identity could be transmitted like an STD. This could be dismissed as a random instance of a politician speaking out of turn were it not part of an ongoing pattern.

... Taken as a conglomerate, Jackson, Young, Sharpton and Georgia Rep. John Lewis represent a sort of civil rights old boy network -- a black boy network -- that has parlayed its dated activist credentials into cash and jobs. Jackson, a two-time presidential candidate, has become a CNN host; Young was mayor of Atlanta and sits on numerous corporate boards; and Lewis is essentially representative-for-life of the 5th Congressional District in Georgia. Sharpton is younger than the others but a peer in spirit.

Hmm. One line there really struck me.

the death knell for the reign of the civil rights-era leadership -- or at least the illusion of their influence

It reminded me of something I've covered here at We Could Be Famous.

It reminded me of the way the SCLC and the BPP behaved and were received by the crowds at Jena.

And it reminded me of what was said when the SCLC threatened to boycott the city because Council was investigating some sham contracts with some waste disposal companies. And it reminded me of Oyster's response.

(Now, it turns out that the national SCLC is one of the few old guard African American movement orgs. that HAS decided to support Senator Obama, but this doesn't preclude me from using the prior bizarre actions of the SCLC to highlight the diminishing significance of ALL Civil Rights movement organizations and personalities within the African American community at-large.)

Now think about all that.

It certainly is interesting to examine the position of the many African American old guard leadership, the battles they fought over the last 40 years, and their waning political relevance today in the face of an America in which those baby boom battles look more and more like a stalemate every election cycle.
Now I'd like to take the lens provided by Sullivan over to the other side of the baby boom divide. There is change afoot in the Republican caucus as well. It's name is Mike Huckabee.

I've written about him a lot lately. I've tried to cast his meteoric ascendancy within the Republican Presidential nomination fight as somehow linked to the change movement put forth by Senator Obama. If you follow that link, you'll read my argument about the increasing political empowerment of grassroots evangelicals and their growing frustrations with their historic alliance with the Republicans of Wall Street.

Now, read this article from the New York Times. It's title sounds remarkably similar to those discussing what is occurring on the Democratic side:

"Huckabee Splits Young Evangelicals and Old Guard"

Then go back and read Andrew Sullivan's article again.

Pretty interesting stuff, huh?

The baby boom is so 40 years ago.


Leigh C. said...

Another one for your consideration, E:

E said...

yes everyone go to that one, too. excellent post there.

Nightprowlkitty said...

Well, I don't know about the whole baby boomer thing -- in so many ways the civil rights and women's movements were going on way before folks like me (born 1954) were out of grade school. I think folks tend to forget that because of the cultural phenomenon of American youth in the 60s and 70s being so visible (in Europe, of course, that was not a novel thing).

It's time, I think, for the next generation to have their say. And remembering from my own youth, I vividly recall thinking the prior generation were just so ... old and didn't get what was REALLY going on.

And they didn't. Each generation has their own contribution to make.

I'm happy about that and at the same time feel so bad at the world my generation is handing to the next. I hope to contribute to younger folks' dreams and always respect those dreams.

E said...

Now there is just such a tremendous intergenerational digital divide...

When an old man asks me how to change the numerical display on his cell phone...

...There is a reason young people see Obama as more intimately connected with our society than someone like Hillary Clinton and Obama's personal charisma is a part of it.