On Safire, Obama and naming the Joshua Generation

William Safire takes his unique lexical look at the ongoing generation-naming debate, sparked by the election of our first Generation X President (more here and here, too). (And I love the lede of Safire’s column: “Welcome to the socio-literary parlor game of ‘Name That Generation.'” Of course, I am a fan of most things Safire writes. But I digress.)

Safire begins with the Gertrude Stein-coined, Hemingway-cited “Lost Generation,” which appears as one of the two epigraphs that opens “The Sun Also Rises.” Safire also quotes Neil Howe, of Strauss & Howe fame and co-author of the groundbreaking book Generations, and whose work obviously heavily influences this blog.

Safire reminds us of a couple of once heavily used generational names that look a little hazy in the distance, but at the time, were quite popular in their usage: the Beat Generation and the Me Generation. Best as I can rationalize, those names now appear to be better suited to the period they were used in, or at least appearing to be a subset of the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers, respectively.

Where Safire really hits home is his use of the term “Joshua Generation” to apply specifically to African-Americans like President-elect Obama — those who came of age after the great Civil Rights battles of the last century, and are now reaping the rewards of the work of those in the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and later (actually, Safire cites Obama citing the Rev. Otis Moss Jr. who reminded the president-elect to “look at the story of Joshua because you’re part of the Joshua generation.”
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Generation O, revisited

What I liked about Damien Cave’s article in the Sunday New York Times headlined “Generation O” (I’ll avoid modest self-promotion except to say I had that headline months ago, but I digress) is the attention it pays the Baby Boomers (and post-Boomers) and the Millennials (those voters born mostly after 1979 or so).

But I also liked that Cave’s article did not mention my own generation, Generation X — the 29- to 47-year olds born in between these two generations (and I would include President-elect Obama in that group, though I know others disagree, and probably will until we’re all six feet under).

That we were not singled out in the article is hardly an indication of willful ignorance. Rather, it’s simply our lot in history.

The Boomers used their idealism to fight the good fights of the ’60s and ’70s (and never let you forget it) before moving into the ruling class with the Clinton and George W. Bush presidencies.

The new Millennial Generation is a civic-minded, community- and consensus-oriented grouping (Strauss & Howe’s cyclical theory of four generational types would make them akin to the new G.I. Generation, a new “greatest generation,” if you will). They voted overwhelmingly for our new president (and they came out in numbers not seen since 1972). They have been accustomed to success for most of their brief work history, and they continue to receive it. They’ve been told the world is theirs, and they’ve seen little evidence to the contrary.

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Generation O

Perhaps the greatest knock against Hillary and Bill’s campaign is their overwhelming sense of her entitlement to the office that will be decided this November. It says here that while that seemingly mimics the Clintonian ethos, it has as much to do with two numbers:

  • 1947
  • 1961

The first number is Hillary’s birth year, with her coming into the world smack dab in the original Baby Boom.

The second is Obama’s birth year, teetering between the aforementioned Baby Boom and the next generation, one much reviled by their older fellow Americans — commonly, often derisively, but here, proudly known as Generation X.

Hillary has endured many slights in her career, some perhaps imagined, and some very real, despite the propensity for the Republican opposition to taunt that she is claiming false injuries, all the while holding the bloody hammer behind their proverbial backs.

But in competing neck-and-neck with a younger upstart, one who may or may not be considered part of her own generation, Hillary is enduring the sleightest of slights — possibly losing the nomination to a younger, seemingly undeserving Party compatriot.

It’s a typical reaction of Baby Boomers, and it shows, without a doubt, what generation Hillary considers Barack to be a part of — and it ain’t her own.

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