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Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007 03:37 pm

A boomer for Obama

The case for shedding baggage

Untitled Document When Hillary Clinton scolded Barack Obama the other day in Iowa, talking about his inexperience and listing his mistakes, I saw a picture of a mother lecturing her grown son. That may not be fair, because Clinton is only 14 years older than Obama, but she is of a different generation. In his first book, Obama tells how he reacted when his mother got on his case. He flashed her “a reassuring smile and patted her hand and told her not to worry” — which is just the way he reacts to Clinton. Clinton and I are hardcore baby boomers; Obama is not. (Technically his 1961 birthdate may make him a late boomer, but he doesn’t act or think like one.) I’m just beginning to realize, more slowly than the younger folks, how much that difference matters. A lot has been written lately about the baby boom generation because of the publication of Tom Brokaw’s new book, Boom! Voices of the Sixties, and Newsweek recently devoted an issue to “1968: The Year That Made Us Who We Are.” I clearly remember all the tumultuous events of that year, beginning with anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy’s remarkable second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary against LBJ, then Bobby Kennedy’s entrance into the presidential race. I remember where I was on March 31 when Johnson announced that he wouldn’t run for a second term. The next morning, the woman cleaning my freshman dorm told me, with a mix of concern and glee, “We don’t got no president! He quit!” That very week, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot in Memphis, and this was followed by race riots in Chicago. In June I was studying for finals when I got the news that Bobby Kennedy had been killed.
We who were aware and involved were seared by those events in a way that youngsters like Obama, 7 years old in 1968, could never be. To us, everything mattered more. Discussions turned into arguments with life-and-death urgency. This intensity molded political debate over the next four decades. Sides were taken, lines hardened; the debate became shrill. Andrew Sullivan, writing in The Atlantic, calls this “the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us.”
Enter Obama, who won’t get caught up in whether Iraq is “another Vietnam” but, as the clear anti-war candidate, will get out as quickly as is feasible. He just doesn’t see a problem with many of our old problems. As the only black candidate, he has kept the volume low on the race issue, distancing himself from Clinton’s old friends in the civil-rights movement, while assuring both blacks and whites that he’ll do the right thing quietly. Other Democrats seem fake when they jump on the religion bandwagon with a story of personal faith, but Obama, who came to religion as an adult, says that his new faith is rooted in the secular world and comes with doubts like yours and mine. Sullivan argues that the Obama candidacy “is about ending a war . . . the war within America that has prevailed since Vietnam     . . . a nonviolent civil war that has crippled America at the very time the world needs it most.”
We boomers won’t discount our experience and our dedication to the causes of peace and justice — but if somebody with less baggage can get the same job done sooner, by calming fears and forming new coalitions, then I say give him a chance. Those of us who remember John F. Kennedy may be the only ones left who know what it means when excitement comes to politics. We boomers wouldn’t deny youngsters this chance, through Obama, to join their hopes with a fresh face, and style.  

Contact Fletcher Farrar at
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