Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Shift

For the past month I've been recommending to political buffs I know read this article in the Atlantic Monthly by Andrew Sullivan about why Barack Obama's candidacy is so important, regardless of whether or not he wins the Dem nomination and/or the Presidency.

Sullivan theorizes that what we're witnessing in Obama is the long-awaited next great generational shift in American politics. Even though Obama was born at the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation, he doesn't necessarily identify with the boomers. From Sullivan:

"At its best, the Obama candidacy is about ending a war—not so much the war in Iraq, which now has a mo­mentum that will propel the occupation into the next decade—but the war within America that has prevailed since Vietnam and that shows dangerous signs of intensifying, a nonviolent civil war that has crippled America at the very time the world needs it most. It is a war about war—and about culture and about religion and about race. And in that war, Obama—and Obama alone—offers the possibility of a truce."

Sullivan makes a compelling case suggesting that the scorched earth of the current American political landscape (the ferocity with which Republicans opposed Bill Clinton's policies, the blind arrogance and fear-mongering of Bush/Cheney, Bill O'Reilly vs. Keith Olbermann; the Swift Boaters vs. is rooted in the vitriol with which the boomers approached Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, the rise and fall of JFK's Camelot, et al. And that, in a small way, what's happening now is a continuation of a forty-year-old argument that show no signs of ceasing.

It really is a must-read, especially in light of the stunning Obama win in Iowa, where he brought out voting blocs that no one thought would ever participate in the caucuses. Hillary Clinton isn't connecting with young women, and I still contend that she's too polarizing in the flyover states to truly contend. Obama is. Moreover, Clinton realizes that she's a polarizing figure and, as a result, is running a safe campaign where she's limiting herself to soundbites, unwilling to let her true personality emerge. Voters are waiting for her to act naturally, even if her natural impulse is to be a cold, ambitious, carpetbagger. African Americans in Iowa came out in droves whereas in the past they might have been scared off from the "struggle" rhetoric of Revs. Jackson and Sharpton. One noted curmudgeonly Chicagoist reader wrote, "typical of his generation, (Obama) thinks he's ready to lead when his ideas aren't fully formulated." Of course, if we took that logic to heart, Kennedy would have never been elected.

Sullivan notes in his article that Obama's policies aren't that much different than his opponents but that he (so far) doesn't bear the obvious scarlet letter of Beltway politics. At least, to voters who normally would not have come out, Obama truly represents change. (An aside: after watching how slickly John Edwards threw Clinton under the bus with his "when people advocate for change, the status quo attacks" comment last night, if Obama wins in New Hampshire I wonder if we were looking at the probable Dem ticket in Obama/Edwards).

Seeing those first-time participants in Iowa and Obama's new lead in New Hampshire polls makes me wonder if the reason my peers in Generation X and those in Generation Y weren't apathetic about politics after all, and instead took a look at the petty bickering that passed for politics and decided that we didn't have time for such childish bullshit from our elders.

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