For most of my adult life, I’ve struggled to determine which generation I belong to. Not because I don’t know when I was born, but because I’ve never felt connected to the Baby Boom generation that, according to demographers, I technically belong to. However, since I was born at the end of that demographic explosion, I shared none of the iconic experiences of that generation. When the older Boomers were experiencing Vietnam, Woodstock and Haight-Ashbury, I was learning how to read.
This feeling of disconnection extends to my politics. For years, I’ve wanted our national leaders to get us past the seemingly never-ending battles that began in the 1960s and have carried into the Clinton and Bush presidencies. The old labels and the old fights don’t seem as relevant in today’s world. In this respect, I think Barack Obama has his finger on the pulse of a real desire among voters for change. But what some pundits fail to realize is that it’s not just a desire to move past the Bush presidency – it’s also a desire to move beyond a lot of the tired political battles of recent decades.
So I was thrilled to read this recent piece by Jonathan Alter in Newsweek, in which he breaks down some of the generational and political differences between “Early Boomers” and “Late Boomers.” An excerpt:
In the case of boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964—the whole frame is wrong. It’s based on birthrates, not common cultural and political affinities…But those boomers born after 1955, now mostly in their 40s, missed Woodstock (unless a few snuck in as 14-year-olds). Our coming-of-age decade was the 1970s, not the 1960s. Our presidents were Carter and Reagan, not JFK, LBJ and Nixon. Our calling card was irony, not rebellion.
So it’s no surprise that Hillary Clinton (born 1947) would have a different generational identity from Barack Obama (born 1961). Late Boomers, dubbed “Generation Jones” by activist Jonathan Pontell (because of in-between anonymity and lots of Joneses in popular ’70s songs), make up the largest share of the voter pie—26 percent. Despite our size … we spent years feeling like generational stepchildren. It was as if we arrived late at the ’60s party, after everything turned bitter.
But if we weren’t convincing flower children (or anti-hippies, like George W. Bush), we weren’t part of Generation X either. The Gen-Xers were too cynical. Instead we became the perennial swing voters, with residual ’60s idealism mixed with the pragmatism and materialism of the ’80s. Even as demographers concluded that generations are really 10 to 15 years, not 20, no one represented us.
It’s an exaggeration to say that Obama now does, but at least he understands the argument…Well before he challenged the Clintons, Obama rejected what he called “the same old arguments” between left and right. His campaign is about “turning the page,” not just from BushClintonBushClinton, but from the cultural contentiousness of those years.