Generational Politics

Today, there was an interesting article in the New York Times about the generational divide between Obama and the other democrats (namely Clinton) who are putting themselves up for election in 2008. It’s one of the few times I’ve heard someone talking about the necessary shift in paradigms required to engage our generation in politics rather than, well, you know, yelling at us about being lazy and disengaged.

Mr. Obama says he recognizes that the flashpoints of the 60s — war, racism, inequality, the relations between the sexes — still animate American politics and society and remain largely unresolved. And he acknowledges, as a child of a white Kansan mother and black Kenyan father, that his own prominence and prospects would have been impossible without the struggles of those who marched in Selma and Washington. But he argues that America faces new challenges that require a new political paradigm.

Modern presidential campaigns are essentially character tests, and for 20 years or longer the cultural and political divides of the 60s served as presumed signposts to a candidate’s character. Did he protest the war, trip to Hendrix, march in solidarity with women? Or enroll in R.O.T.C., rush a fraternity, join a church? As a young man, Mr. Obama did not have to make many of those choices, and he now has an opportunity to define himself on his own terms and not be instantly caricatured based on personal decisions he made four decades ago. (He has, of course, acknowledged some marijuana and cocaine use in his youth; that does not seem to have dimmed his prospects.)

“Where you were on these issues really told people who you were,” said Chris Lehane, a former Clinton White House official who is now a political consultant in California. “But 2008 will represent a hinge moment in generational politics, not just because of the prominence of a post-boomer candidate but because this will be the first cycle when a whole new range of issues as big, if not bigger, than the big issues that defined the boomers will be front and center: Iraq, the war on terror, global warming, energy, technology and globalization.”