At times in President Obama’s inaugural speech, he seemed to be addressing himself directly to Generation X — now, the new leadership of this country — and the Millennial Generation — the rising workers and doers of America.
Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
This has been a concern of my generations’ since I was in college almost 20 years ago. But in These Times, with trouble abroad and at home, there are greater concerns than our long-held worry about own prosperity and future retirement (though this is no less real or less important).
President Obama’s call to our nation’s generations for a new era of responsibility is the message America needs.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.
As members of Generation X, the burden to lead will be on our shoulders, though, if history is any indicator, the bulk of the credit and praise will fall not to the leaders from our generation (with the notable and correct exception of our presidents).
Rather, the rewards and praise will go to those industrious Millennials, who will work and carry out the plans our generation designs. No, our reward will be in a cranky and stable, if not overly prosperous, old age. With the way things are, and the way things have been, that sounds OK with me.
And though this may be our humble lot, a rallying cry can produce hope, even among my fellow cynics. Indeed, a call to action penned by the man who has been called America’s first blogger, Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense, helped rally troops to action and eventual victory and redoubled the faith of a weary and doubtful new nation. It made sense that Obama paid homage to this author from a like-minded generation.
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).