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Leader of the Millennials? It's All How You Craft the Story

By Tom Watson on February 18, 20082 Comments

Is Barack Obama the candidate of the millennials? Well, he’s garnered the lion’s share of under-30 votes, yet he was born in 1961 – a year usually grouped with the very same Baby Boomers whose politics Obama has made a point off dismissing. Obama is a real phenomenon in CauseWired world, and I’ve written an essay over at my personal blog about how he fits into the generational question. Here’s a bit:

In the movies, the best leading men have always been able to portray younger characters – John Wayne played iconic gunslingers into his 50s, Cary Grant was the suave romantic lead into his early 60s, and Harrison Ford will reprise Indiana Jones this spring at a spry 65. Actors like Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington and Nicolas Cage can easily take on parts playing men a decade or more junior to their biological ages.

The more I watch the extraordinary cultural phenomenon that is Barack Obama, the more I realize that the  Senator from Illinois – the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination – is a political actor skillfully portraying a much younger character, and to rave reviews at that.

Obama will turn 47 years old before the delegates to the Democratic convention are seated in August. Yet he is leading what has been described as a generational movement of younger voters, the so-called millennials who were born in the 80s and came of age in the years after September 11, 2001. He is cast by the media as being part of that movement, a much younger voice in American politics than that of Hillary Clinton – who like a lot of leading female actors, must play her biological age pretty much straight up.

But Obama is either a Baby Boomer, according to some generational studies, or he’s a Generation Xer, according to others. It’s a generational tagging quandary I know pretty well, being less than a year younger than Obama. Culturally, we’re either late Boomers without the groovy 1960s experience, or early Gen Xers without the 80s hair gel. Our group came of age in the 70s – we’re all Watergate and punk rock, Son of Sam and Bronx is Burning, CBGB and Carter’s national malaise. Reagan picked off the conservatives among us, but left the liberals with permanent case of cynicism as as we began our careers. Culturally, we were just kids when the Beatles were in their prime, but we were too old to get much out of The Breakfast Club and that 80s brat pack ilk.

More at my blog, including the discussion in comments.

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  • Shava Nerad says:

    I’m turning 49 this summer, and because of my understanding of current culture and my energy levels, no one thinks I am pushing 50. Generally I’m taken for being solidly in my 30s.

    But Robert Kennedy wasn’t a twenty-something when he ran for president in an age when youth was far more fetishized and segregated culturally.

    In fact, since you can’t become president until the ripe old age of 35, it’s unusual to find anyone as young as Obama in the running — since for many candidates, it’s takes multiple runs for them to have a hope of reaching the convention.

    So, to say Obama represents a younger generation is to say he understands them, knows how to reach and motivate them, and advocates for them (not necessarily following in that order).

    That sets him apart from almost all the candidates. Seriously, it has to be hard for most young people to imagine Hillary Clinton or John McCain as a young person or as remembering the real passions of young people.

    Although, for myself, if I felt like Clinton had stuck with her youthful passions instead of becoming the iconographic representation of the rusting machine power politics DLC democrat, I’d be voting for her. It makes me sad to remember my “Give ‘em hell, Hillary!” button from the first Clinton presidential campaign.

    My vote, at nearly 50, goes to Obama — in part because I do believe he can reach and motivate young adults!

  • Well, Tom Watson, you know the campaign is getting really ugly. The attacks on Hillary are a demonstration of how much higher the glass ceiling is for a married with child successful white Womin.
    Each day that goes by I see no substance in Barack’s “change” campaign, but I do see a lot of attacks on Hillary’s physical appearance from the kids. If it were the other way around it would be a big no-no.
    Along the lines of your post, I remember reading Anne Bancroft was just a few years older than Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate.”
    I’m 55, my husband 43, we’re both Hillary supporters. I believe part of the problema is the way boomers raised their children but that would be a subject for other posts.

    Hillary deserves R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

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