The generations and the polls
From his post in London, Lord Rees-Mogg speculates in Whiskey and
Gunpowder that Obama mania is about to sweep Europe, in the same way
Europeans swooned for Jack Kennedy nearly half a century ago.
That alone might not be a huge revelation; if memory serves, there was a poll a while back indicating that if it were up to the rest of the world, Obama would be the overwhelming choice for U.S. president. But Rees-Mogg has tapped into something more significant — the generational factor among American voters.
There has been an extraordinary shift in the age group that
dominates political life, in Europe as well as in the United States. Those of us
who are older than the baby boomers saw them take over from our generation, and
we now see our children’s generation taking over from them. Technically, I think
that Barack Obama is himself a baby boom child, if one extends the birth dates
of the baby boom generation from 1947-1965, but he relates to the generation
born from 1965-1990. To it, Hillary Clinton, aged 60, seems to be on the cusp
between the middle-aged and the elderly. Every time she refers to her greater
experience, she reminds the generation now in its 30s that she belongs to an
He is absolutely right. Chronologically, Obama is a Boomer, born in 1961. But culturally, few would deny he is Generation X. Neil Strauss and the late William Howe, in their series of books on generational changes, believe that the boomer mindset preceded the actual numerical baby boom by several years, placing the real boomer generation from 1943 to 1960 — and placing Obama just outside it.
In contrast to the two Democrats, Sen. McCain belongs to Rees-Mogg's generation, the Silent Generation — born too late to fight in World War II, but too soon to belong to the boomers.
Assuming an Obama nomination, we will face a remarkable situation: The most numerous generation among our adult population will be unrepresented by a major-party presidential candidate. After two terms of Clinton and two terms of Bush 43, Rees-Mogg believes Boomer fatigue has set in:
The trouble with the baby boomers is that they have become too
familiar. They have been around too long, and there are too many of them. They
are boring to the next generation, who became students in the ‘80s, but they are
also boring to the pre-baby boom generation, who were students in the ‘50s.
I was never sure what “triangulation” meant. It sounded like poor
geometry, as well as poor politics. But Hillary Clinton is exposed to the double
difficulty of having lost the younger generation without creating enthusiasm
among the older — she makes good speeches, but her speeches do not relate to the
hopes of either generation. She does, however, retain her identification with
the women of her own age group.
It's a seductive scenario, logical on the surface — Silents and Gen-Xers ganging up to keep a Boomer out of the White House. But I don't know whether the Boomers are ready to go gentle into that good night. Sen. Clinton sure isn't — and I'm not ready to rule out a comeback in Ohio and Texas a week from today that would set the stage for a battle royal in which the Clinton faction ultimately triumphs at the Democratic convention.
Should that happen, younger voters energized by Obama will be crestfallen. They'll revert to form and do what they usually do on Election Day — which is anything except show up at the polls.