Gen X GOP: The Next GenerationPosted: Sunday, February 22, 2009
What’s a superhero without super-villains? Barack Obama and the Democrats were first to the finish line with the first member of Generation X elected president.
But as a previously (and possibly once-again) conservative-leaning generation, the politicians who came of age during the Reagan Revolution are starting to emerge as foils to the new President.
We’re talking about Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, born in 1971, who has been tapped to deliver the opposition party response to the President’s address to Congress on Tuesday. We’re talking about the “hyper-ambitious” Representative from Virginia, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, born in 1963 and said to revere both hyper-partisan Newt Gingrich and über-leader Winston Churchill.
And of course, there’s the 1964-born Governor Sarah Palin, whose cringe-worthy appearances we’ve been (blessedly) able to ignore since the end of the campaign.
(Disclosure: The Obama vs. Bizarro Obama superhero idea wasn’t mine. Slate’s Christopher Beam had it in an article about new GOP National Chairman Michael Steele. That works for me, but Lex Luthor needed his fellow masterminds in the Legion of Doom, even if Luthor was the villains’ acknowledged superior. Of course, this torpedoes my generational argument somewhat — Steele is a late-Boomer born in 1958 — shoo! Generation Jones™ commentariat — but does this work for you? No? Move along. Move along.)
With Obama carrying the mantle for Democrats born after 1960, he’ll need to both work with and occasionally battle these three Gen X rising stars from the GOP, who, like the President, have ascended to their leadership posts with diverse backgrounds — an Indian-American governor, the only Jewish Republican in the House, and the GOP’s first you-betcha’ing female VP nominee.
It’s somewhat worrisome, though, that the Democrats, at least in Congress, have no apparent Gen X sidekicks for the President. And according to my math, there’s only three Democratic Gen X governors, none of whom are household names: Chet Culver (born 1966) of Iowa, Brad Henry (born 1963) of Oklahoma, and Tommy Carcetti, er, Martin O’Malley (born 1963) of Maryland.
We must add that we like 1961-born Florida Rep. Robert Wexler’s sense of humor and we’re rooting for newly appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (born in 1966), the youngest senator. Ironically, both Democrats apparently are at opposite ends of the left spectrum, with Wexler a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus while Gillibrand was a Blue Dog Democrat in the House (though she’s going to need to move a little further left to retain her seat in her first statewide election in 2010).
Still, the top three Democrats in the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate are members of the Silent Generation (1940-born Nancy Pelosi and James Clyburn and 1939-born Harry Reid and Steny Hoyer) with Baby Boomers in the Nos. 2 and 3 slots behind Reid in the Senate (1944-born Dick Durbin and 1950-born Chuck Schumer). In fact, the four oldest senators are Democrats, all G.I. Generation members born before 1925, including 91-year-old Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Byrd, third in the line of succession after Vice President Joe Biden and Pelosi.
While Obama might have taken the lead for our generation, and while it’s arguably easier to groom the next generation for leadership when you’re the minority opposition party — and thus have little more to lose and can therefore take more chances — Democratic leaders in addition to the President and his White House team will need to start paying more attention to Generation X, both from a political and practical standpoint (like using technology the way Obama did during the campaign). Otherwise, they risk losing the incredible gains Obama made, politically, for our generation.