Pragmatism defines Generation X — and ObamaPosted: Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Perhaps it is the right time for a reckoning of sorts. We’ve spent a lot of space here slagging on the Boomers, and justly so. But this is not to forget what my own generation has wrought.
I was reminded of this by a comment from an obviously angry Boomer to a Talking Points Memo Café Reader Post last week, and also because I was returning some videos, er, up late last night watching American Psycho on HBOZ (which I think is an underrated, though often poorly directed, satire on the ’80s. I’m digressing again, I know.)
My generation largely revered Reagan as youngsters, looked up to late-Boomer (and early Gen X’er) Yuppies and DINKs and the ’80s stockbroker culture, to say nothing of unleashing Charlie Sheen (both in real life and Bud Fox from Wall Street). My generation also whelped Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity (both born in 1961, the same year as Obama). My own politics aside, we were fast on our way to becoming a more conservative generation than our parents — think Alex P. Keaton and you’re not far off the mark — at least until George W. Bush came along.
According to Michael Connery on TPM Café, late-era Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are still the most conservative segment of voters in the country, raised in part during the boom of College Republicans in the 1980s and into the 1990s, during a time period, Connery notes, when Democrats ceded the seeding of the next generation of would-be liberals in the aftermath of Mondale and Dukakis. Democrats didn’t begin to rise again until after Bill Clinton came to power, who nevertheless appealed more to the centrist base represented by the Democratic Leadership Council than traditional liberals.
In Strauss & Howe’s book Generations, the authors note that in 15 of 16 polls from 1981 to 1988, my generation gave Ronald Reagan a higher approval rating than any other generation, except for the still-living members of Gen X’s related generation, the Lost Generation (born between 1883-1900).
All is not lost, though, from my Progressive perspective. In fact, Republicans have to be kicking themselves for potentially blowing it with the Young because of the turn-off of George W. Bush — I wonder if, in the back of their minds, this is where some of the Republican backlash at Bush is coming from. Not that former Bush-supporters are suddenly going to become liberals, but the lustre is long gone.
Still, aside from Obama’s popularity with my generation, and especially with the Millennials, it’s possible the majority of my generation (born 1961-approx. 1980) may end up considered more conservative.
But putting the Left and Right aside, Gen X is nearly certain to end up in the Pragmatic camp, regardless of how that is defined on the political spectrum.
You see this already in Obama’s post-primary shift in recent weeks, if not true to his hoped-for liberal roots, to some centrist-sounding stances. It’s rather easy seeing the more centrist Hillary taking the position Obama recently staked on the FISA amendment, for instance, until you consider the gains he may realize from this position in the general election, as well as his necessary reversal to rejecting public campaign funding.
If you follow Strauss & Howe’s logic and timeline, our “reactive” or “nomad” generational type, bound together as we are by our birth years, typically is less interested in ideology and more concerned about getting things done. Our “doing-what-you-gotta-do” generation is the only true way to combat the excess of the Boomers, which will haunt us for years to come with longer lifestyles embodied by “spending our children’s inheritance” attitudes in prolonged retirement (hey, at least we’re not Europe).
I consider myself a Pragmatic Progressive (as I would consider Obama, considering his life story and borne out by his recent political moves). Pragmatism is a hallmark of our generation. Pragmatism was the way we survived (if not thrived) growing up and beginning our careers, and it certainly will be the way we mature as leaders and advise as elders in old age. Think Harry S Truman or Eisenhower (especially upon Ike’s exit, warning of the growing power of the institutions he helped promote), both members of the Lost Generation that Strauss & Howe links through history to Gen X.
Even the Wall Street types we helped popularize understand this pragmatism in coming out and supporting Obama. (link to Daily News via Talking Points Memo)
Time will tell if our conservative base or our pragmatism (or both) define Gen X in the history books, as we have the very real possibility of electing our generation’s first president in the liberal yet pragmatic Barack Obama.