Saturday, February 16, 2008

Generation Gaps and Obama

In a post discussing her own reservations about Barack Obama, Amba tangentially discusses the disconnect between herself and her more liberal friends and family.

The dyed-in-the-wool Democrats I know, many of them in my own family and among my closest friends, are very solemn about being in (as opposed to on) the right. To them, the simple virtue of being simply pro-choice , antiwar, green, and anticorporate is obvious and incontrovertible. If you tell them you don't think it's that simple, they look at you like you've sold your soul to the devil. Not to unquestioningly accept the pure rightness of those positions is to have malignly mutated, to have become stupid, greedy, backward, and corrupt.

I wonder if it’s a generational thing or perhaps a regional thing (Amba’s roots are in deep blue Chicago and New York City as distinct from my red and purple Dallas and San Antonio roots), but my left-leaning friends and family are not nearly so absolutist. Yes, I know the type of which Amba writes and I do catch some flak for the rightward slide I’ve taken, but only a handful of those with whom I’m closest believe liberalism to be “obvious and incontrovertible.”

Almost all my closest friends and family are Democrats and only a tiny fraction are significantly conservative, so this isn’t a matter of me not knowing enough people on the left. However, other than my online blog friends and my parents, everyone I talk politics with is roughly my age. When I voice a more conservative stance during friendly debates, I am not looked at as a mutant but rather engaged. They may not often concede any ground, but they will take my opinions seriously.

I bring this up as a long way to voice a thought about why younger voters are backing Obama in such large numbers. It’s not just youth’s well-documented infatuation with the new and vibrant, it’s that when Obama talks of bridging divides, people of my age (33) and younger believe it is realistically achievable because the newer generations are not as intransigently partisan as are the baby boomers. Just as Obama’s bi-racial identity is a much more common experience in my generation, Obama’s inclination to be less rigid is more common to those of us who’ve grown up in (and grown weary with) the polarized glare of our parents’ ideologies.

Sure, you have deeply divisive younger people like thirty-something Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos whose obdurate and blindly loyal liberalism makes your average New York City baby boomer look positively bipartisan, but my experience leads me to believe, on the whole, us Gen Xers and Yers are less committed to defending ideology to the death and more interested in ending or at least assuaging the political bitterness. Maybe that’s just my specific cohort, but I think it may play into Obama’s ability to get his message across to younger voters. It may also be why, on the Republican side, John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul captured the youth vote in the earlier contests, with all three offering messages significantly removed from the George W. Bush style of polarizing politics (represented this election by angry-pundit backed and youth-vote loser Mitt Romney).

It’s a decent theory – too critical of baby boomers and too complimentary of my generation for sure – but it’s worth thinking about and is far less derogatory than the going theory that younger voters are just naïve hope-addicts.

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Blogger amba said...

Maybe I was just born to soon . . .

But it seems that the majority electorate's stubborn preference for less polarized candidates -- having to fight their own party establishments to get them, and winning -- reflects . . . what? Greater participation by younger people, certainly, which is not just a matter of high turnout but of natural replacement; but also, maybe, a "silent majority" of all ages that this time is just as fed up with the political Punch-and-Judy show as your generation is.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

The baby boom technically ended in 1964, meaning there are people turning 44 this year who are not boomers. But I think it's hard to call anyone a boomer if they were just just a small child in the late 60s. By that count, there are large swaths of post-boomer voters out there who seem to be leaning towards a post-partisan position -- plus, I bet there are more than just a few boomers (like yourself) who are also weary of the divisiveness. That adds up to real change.

4:49 PM  

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