First Gen X president-elect

Barack Obama not only broke the color barrier Tuesday night, he also became the country’s first president-elect from Generation X.

How this will shape his actions as president is yet to be seen. Expect a pragmatic approach to fixing the problems created and exacerbated by our generation’s next-elders.

Now comes the hard part: as Hemingway wrote in The Sun Also Rises, “The bill always came. That was one of the swell things you could count on.”

The challenges ahead will be arduous. Any sort of honeymoon will be brief, and as much as the press corps will need to adapt to working even harder, Obama too will need to relax on his tight message-delivery, a hallmark of his successful campaign that may not work as well as Leader of the Free World who will need the press as much as the press needs him (or what’s left of the media, after continued short-sighted corporate gutting).

But if anyone has shown the ability to embrace new situations and pragmatically adapt to new circumstances, it’s the new president-elect. In fact, it’s just another asset of our generation.

As Strauss & Howe lay it out in their generational archetypes, Generation X is a nomadic or reactive generation — “cunning, hard-to-fool realists.”

Or take Obama’s brand-delivery throughout the campaign. Obama’s direct messaging to the voters through his Web site and through text messages was resoundingly successful, but it likely appealed most to the Millennials, even more than his own (and my own) cynical generation that disdained the conformity of brands, as Peter Feld in Advertising Age put it (via LifeCourse.com). The Millennials, as Feld points out, seem to love the larger community of associating with a brand, be it an iPhone or a candidate, which certainly plays into the civic and communal aspects Strauss & Howe predict for them.

Call it further proof of Generation X’er pragmatism in adapting and recognizing a trend before anyone else dose — it’s how Obama built a movement that defeated the Silent Generation’s John McCain and the Baby Boomers’ Hillary Clinton.

And don’t discount the influence of our own generation. With Barack Obama’s election, Generation X has proven that, in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges ahead for the country and fear and racism still existing in the minds of some voters, all we care about is getting the job done and electing the best person to do it.

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4 Comments on “First Gen X president-elect”

  1. ElectionWatcher says:

    Interesting post and blog, but Obama is certainly not a GenXer. Relevantly, as many influential experts have pointed out, Obama is part of Generation Jones–born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Xers.

    On this page there are excerpts from publications like Newsweek and the New York Times, and videos with over 25 top pundits, all talking about Obama’s identity as a GenJoneser:
    http://www.generationjones.com/2008election.html

  2. The Icepick says:

    Yeah, I’m not so sure about that, but thanks for reading. I’ve previously addressed this and described how and why I think Obama is a Generation X’er, and why Gen X begins around 1961, the year Obama was born (the same year as Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter). The Baby Boom lasted until the late Fifties, with birthrates actually peaking in 1957. And as an arbitrary dividing line, The Pill was legalized for contraceptive use in June 1960, so it first impacted birth rates in 1961. Not by much that year, of course — some studies have birthrates peaking even higher in 1961, I believe (the Census bureau puts the Boom from 1946 all the way to 1964, by the way), but regardless, the number of American babies born certainly declined from there straight on through Roe v. Wade and the Seventies. So the birth of The Pill seems like as good a line to draw than any other arbitrary line.

    Strauss & Howe could speak much better than I could on this subject (check out their Generations book for starters, and yes, I know they call Gen X the “13th Generation”), but I think history will bear out this theory in hindsight and with the benefit of perspective — hard to do that when we’re still living in the moment, I know. At the very least, I do not think history is going to show three distinct generations between 1943 and the late Seventies, and instead reflect the generational membership Strauss & Howe describe.

    And it is true, that those “first- and last-wavers” born around the cusp of each generation’s span exhibit traits of both generations, but that’s no reason to create a sub-set generation — otherwise, why not simply declare every few years a new generation based on pop culture, and then you’re devaluing the basis of generational studies (which, of course, is no science, but on the whole, I think is sound; sound enough for this blog, anyway). Check out this New York Times article about the difficulties of pegging this down.

    From the admittedly little I’ve read about this so-called and recently coined Generation Jones, the birthyear band looks too narrow. I’ve long subscribed to the Strauss & Howe theory of a generation running around 20 years, plus or minus a few years — and I buy into their cyclical theory of four generational types, too — giving us 13 generations since the American Revolution. The Wikipedia entry on Generation Jones seems to me to rather limit the events associated with the Baby Boomers — like it or not, they’re the generation of the Beatles and the Ramones (at least their Seventies fans). The Boomers are not limited to solely the Summer of Love. And as Strauss & Howe write in Generations: “Thirteeners, not Boomers, were America’s true ‘children of the 1960s.’ And, especially, the 1970s.”

    I’m also not so sure about the name for this “generation” — it’s almost like launching a new marketing campaign, and “jonesing” is not quite a term with much historical stamina (neither may Generation X, for that matter, but I’ve heard that term applied to this generation a lot longer than this new subgroup; plus I like Coupland’s book, though I’m pretty sure he hates that it became synonymous with an actual generation; and for the record, I hate the label “13th Generation,” though it’s about the only thing I disagree with from Strauss & Howe’s work; well, that and them renaming the generational types (“reactive” to “nomad,” etc.)). You can’t really brand your generation like you’re branding soda — history does that for you.

    I just read Bennet Kelly’s April article on The Huffington Post (he misspelled Coupland’s name, by the way), and basically, he and most of his commenters sound like they don’t want to be associated with those 10 years older or younger than them, but in many ways, end up sounding like both Boomers and Gen X’ers — that’s often the case with those born on the cusp of two generations. They just don’t seem to like either name (again, it’s a branding campaign).

    I’m afraid Kelly and his commenters’ emphasis is too much on how they feel, which is an important aspect of generational cohorts; but there needs to be an equal emphasis on how they act and react, and how that impacts society, for which we’ll all need some historical perspective.

    I also think there’s an issue of looking to define too specifically individual events and references, without connecting them to a broader national and generational mood.

    I’ve argued that, as someone born on the generational cusp, Obama’s idealism reveals Boomer-like traits, but more importantly, his pragmatism lands him in the Gen X camp.

    And, I mean, I know the popularity of the Baby Boomers is on the downswing, but that’s no reason to chop them down even further.

    Generational definitions need to address broader similarities among people born across a span of years over the approximate length of a “phase of life” (as Strauss & Howe put it). These broad similarities include how children were raised, how they govern (of course, that’s still developing in the groups we’re discussing), how old they are when certain crises hit (and how they react to them), and, since this is all theory, how they behave in old age and how they are remembered.

    Again, history will be the final judge, but I think Strauss & Howe’s work will bear out the generational spans roughly as I’ve subscribed to them throughout this blog.

    (And, shit, you got me so interested in the topic that I wrote a response that’s longer than my original post, but the coffee is starting to wear off now. Cheers.)

  3. Totally agree. Obama is a Gen X’er. I have argued as much on my blog as well. In fact, it is an unusual precedence to have a Gen X’er in office right now: http://www.thegenxfiles.com/2009/02/06/presidential-precedence-obama-is-most-like

    Dave

  4. Carolyn says:

    Yeah, I’m an “Xer” and I’ve always found those born in the 60’s to be a whole other animal than those born in the 40’s or 50’s, so I think that it’s probably a fair dividing line if there must be one.

    I think he is on the right track…trying to fix the Reaganomics – been waiting for my “trickle” to trickle down since 1984, when I turned 18. Thing is, gotta turn on the faucet just a little to get a trickle. If you stick a cork in the end, no trickle.

    I think I see a drip….. 8)


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