David Guttenfelder/AP

Next Generation Replacing Baby Boomers' Cynicism With Hope

November 11, 2008 11:29 AM
by Rachel Balik
With Obama’s election, pundits predict baby boomer politics are a thing of the past as a new generation of politics is ushered in.

Out With the Old, in With the O

In the early days of the Obama campaign, the young Democratic candidate endured numerous comparisons to President John F. Kennedy. Like Kennedy, Obama has ushered in a new era, an era fueled by millions of young voters. Obama’s supporters largely comprise what the New York Times calls “Generation O”: 18- to 29-year-olds who flocked to the polls in record numbers. Who better to help Obama move on from “the psychodrama of the Baby Boom generation,” as he wrote in his book, “The Audacity of Hope,” than these young voters?

The New York Times notes that Kennedy changed the mode of communication between the White House and the American public by holding televised news conferences. For Obama, the Internet will play an essential role in engaging the public in a continuing dialogue. Not only does the Internet enable fluid and frequent communication, it also permits a lack of formality that comes from bestowing the people with power for political commentary.

The Week in Rap’s Special Election Edition is just one example of the freedom of expression, jubilation and enthusiasm found on the Web. Obama’s election is depicted via a video montage and a rap song. The song also represents the dawn of an era when politics and entertainment begin to meld.

That combination of politics and entertainment was certainly apparent on election night. Blogging for the BBC, Gavin Hewitt described the climate at Grant Park on election night as akin to that of a rock concert. But youthful enthusiasm and energy did not outweigh the profound sense of a new historical era. He said it was clear when the Obamas and their children ascended the stage that “a nation had been rebranded.”

Background: Separating Obama from the boomers

Although Obama is technically a baby boomer himself, he is on the younger end of the generation. Thus, as The Boston Globe points out, although he lived through the era, he is “not of the 60s”: though Obama grew up knowledgeable about the social issues of the time, he was not personally embroiled in the drama of the 1960s. The Globe argues that Obama’s campaign for change has been more influenced by his generational perspective than his racial one, allowing him to leave behind “familiar battles” and tackle new challenges.

One battle that loses its dominance in the American psyche with Obama’s election is Vietnam. John Zogby writes that the election of the young president suggests the end of Vietnam-era politicians. Zogby International polled voters prior to the election and found that the Vietnam War still had low popularity ratings for the American public. The war has played a role in previous elections, when Bill Clinton was accused of being a draft dodger and John Kerry was lauded, then criticized, for his role in Vietnam. Now, the timing is such that a Vietnam vet will most likely not have the chance to run for the office of the president.

The Moderate Voice blog argues that, like it or not, “The Baby Boomers have passed the torch.” Author and boomer Shaun Mullen writes that Election Day 2008 signaled “the 1960s are now officially over.”

Related Topics: Renewing the American dream; Generation X

Election Day was marked by massive voter turnout, demonstrating a renewed vigor for the American political process. Many registered to vote for the first time in their lives. One St. Louis native told the International Herald Tribune that in the past, he thought his vote “would not count for much of anything” but this year, he registered to vote for the first time.

But some argue that Generation X has become lost in the mix. Time magazine talked with Jeff Gordinier, author of “X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft But Can Still Keep Everything From Sucking,” last April. Some of Gordinier’s book is devoted to criticizing Generation Y, also known as “millennials.” These are the people generally lumped in Generation O, the young crowd who makes up Obama’s fan base. Gordinier argues that there is still an essential role for Gen Xers to play, however.

Reference: Vietnam War

For most boomers, 1968 was a seminal year, both politically and socially. The History Channel’s documentary on the year sought to encapsulate the tensions and forces behind the country’s attitudes and developments. A section on Vietnam covers the numerous aspects of the war, and the nation’s response.

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