Talkin' 'Bout My New Generation
Barack Obama says the baby boomers' time has passed. Many voters seem to agree with himso far
Barack Obama has spent the past two weeks in splendid seclusion, far away from the campaign trail, in Hawaii. The Illinois senator caught up on family news with his grandmother and sister, who live on Oahu, played golf with pals, and, if the past is any guide, engaged in some fierce Scrabble. This is the way Obama has spent Christmas for many years.
But this time, there's been a big difference. Topic A was a momentous onedeciding, after talking with his wife, Michelle, relatives, friends, and advisers, whether to run for president in 2008. He is expected to enter the race, and he plans to announce his decision in the next few weeks.
But regardless of whether he runs, the intensity of Obama-mania suggests that the political and societal forces he representsparticularly a desire for new ideas, new faces, and a less rancorous brand of discoursewill shape the next election. Other Democratic presidential wannabes are testing the same themes, including former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who announced last week, and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. But so far, it is Obama who has ridden the desire for change the furthest and the fastest. The 45-year-old freshman senator has come within striking distance of Hillary Rodham Clinton in the national polls for the Democratic nomination, is running even with her in New Hampshire, site of the first primary, and has quickly developed a reputation as one of the most charismatic politicians in years.
"I think there is a great hunger for change in the countryand not just policy change," Obama told U.S. News. "What I also think they are looking for is change in tone and a return to some notion of the common good and some sense of cooperation, of pragmatism over ideology. I'm a stand-in for that right now."
Comparisons. In his new book, The Audacity of Hope, Obama makes a rather audacious comparisonindirectly raising the prospect that he has a generational appeal reminiscent of John F. Kennedy's in 1960 and signaling that he is ready to capitalize on baby boomer fatigue. "The politics of today suffers from a case of arrested development," Obama writes. "In the back-and-forth between [President Bill] Clinton and [former House Speaker Newt] Gingrich, and in the elections of 2000 and 2004, I sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the baby boom generationa tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long agoplayed out on the national stage. The victories that the Sixties generation brought aboutthe admission of minorities and women into full citizenship, the strengthening of individual liberties, and the healthy willingness to question authorityhave made America a far better place for all its citizens. But what has been lost in the process, and has yet to be replaced, are those shared assumptionsthat quality of trust and fellow feelingthat bring us together as Americans."
One of his objectives, it seems, is to set himself apart from Hillary Clinton. "Hillary Clinton is very much a creature of the 1960s and the 1970s, when she came of age," says Boston University historian Julian Zelizer. Obama seems to be trying to pigeonhole her as a politician stuck in the past.