As if struggling through the Great Depression and surviving four long years of a world-wide war were not enough, the Greatest Generation went on to turn America into an unprecedented global military and economic power. Their legacy includes the interstate highway system, near universal access to higher education and launching America into the space age, to name a few. Their objectives were material security, and they believed in the basic goodness of American society.
They also reproduced in record numbers, creating what is commonly referred to as the Baby Boom generation.
By their sheer numbers, boomers dominated every aspect of American culture. Art, theater, television and music were created by young people or catered to their tastes. In parts activated and inspired by President Kennedy, baby boomers made their biggest impact on America’s political life. Thanks to their parents, they had the time to think about American society and challenge it. Boomers energized the civil-rights movement, virtually ended a war and helped end Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.
Still in their 20s, they then took their organizing skills to societal movements designed to improve the quality of our lives — the environment, equal rights for women, gays and any other disenfranchised group of Americans you can think of. Boomers dominated both political parties and, finally, in 1992, the country had its first baby-boomer president. If you look at things generationally, it certainly appeared to be the high-water mark for boomers.
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That was 23 years ago, and the truth is we baby boomers are starting to show our age. Let’s look at the two prominent boomer candidates for the White House — former Gov. Jeb Bush and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Bush’s strategy is now clear: Blow out the moderate conservatives in the first quarter of 2015 with a spectacular demonstration of fund-raising prowess. Bush will do that, but he also will be frantically trying to readjust his positions to the younger, limited-government believers of the Republican Party. Remember, it was his brother who expanded both Medicare and the federal government’s role in education. Let’s see how Bush handles Common Core and immigration reform now.
Hillary Clinton’s strengths and challenges are similar. There is an undercurrent of resentment on the left by those who remember her support of the Iraq War and her generally interventionist foreign-policy views.
Many also view both Hillary and Bill Clinton as too comfortable with Wall Street. The former secretary of state will hire some of President Obama’s organizers, but that will not make her appear fresher or more relevant to the hunger in the Democratic Party for new ideas.
On television, she appears flat, tired and not campaign ready. Who can blame her; she has been in the trenches her entire life. Plus, with the economy recovering, will Clinton run from or toward Obama? In 2007 Clinton was also the prohibitive front-runner. All of us are almost eight years older and so are our ideas. Clinton is blessed with a weakened Democratic bench, creating a lack of opposition.
But is inevitability a platform?
The country will be safe with either Clinton or Bush, but unlike Mitt Romney (another boomer) both have been off the campaign trail a long time. At least one issue that might illustrate their staleness.
The largest discretionary portion of the federal budget is defense spending. Does anyone realistically think either candidate will create a fundamental difference in our expenditures and military presence overseas? There probably is not a dime’s worth of difference between the two on this issue.
In the case of Clinton, her greatest threat now might not be from a candidate. The truth is baby boomers make great advisers and mentors, but politically we ran out of policy creativity a long time ago, and politics abhors a vacuum. There is nothing more boring than hearing boomers talk about the ’60s, the Beatles and their medications. Take it from me, I am one. We are all a product of our times.
Don’t be surprised if voters feel the country may be better served if we elect people whose life experience is rooted in the current economic, social and technological environment, as opposed to having two feet firmly set in the past.
Mike Abrams is former chairman of the Dade Democratic Party, former state legislator and currently a policy adviser to Ballard Partners.