I've been mulling over in my head a couple of insightful comments that readers posted to one of my posts last week. I think these readers are onto something quite striking about the Presidential election.
Commenter Blue wrote:
"Palin likes men." That is a very concise way of putting something I have been mulling over.
I think there is a reason for that, as well--Palin isn't a Boomer. She is in one of the first cohorts of Gen-X. She didn't suffer through a lot of the same travails that the Boomer women politicians did that marked all of them with a seriousness and general lack of humor that just turns a lot of men off.
Palin didn't have to fight for a woman's basketball team--it was already in her high school. She didn't have to fight to study something but nursing or teaching--others had already gone into journalism. She didn't have to fight to be the first female newscaster in her market--others had gone before. The list goes on.
So she never experienced--at least not to the same level--the gnawing self-doubt that afflicted so many Second Wave feminists. I think that is the source of her confidence and her appeal.
"Palin isn't a Boomer"
We have a winner!
I think this is why she's the first one to treat Obama like the grown man he is. She was 4(!) in 1968. She acted like a post-sexist, and she treated Barack like a post-racist.
These comments strike me as being right on target. Obama comes across (and I suspect thinks of himself) as a serious, accomplished person who just happens to be black. His race is part of who he is but he isn't defined by his race. He's sort of a Tiger Woods-Michael Jordan kind of guy, not a Jesse Jackson sort of guy. Also, iterestingly he doesn't shy away from engaging in activities that are often thought of as stereotypically "black," such as hip hop music, fist bumps, playing basketball, and Bernie Mac-style humor. It is just what he happens to like, and there is no symbolism that he is trying to send one way or the other with it. Palin is a serious, accomplished woman who just happens to be a woman (I'm not sure who the popular culture comparison might be to her). She is a stylish, feminine dresser who sees nothing inconsistent with being a tough, competent, chief executive and also a fun, loving mother. She simply isn't Hillary Clinton, she's a different generation. Palin and Obama just don't define themselves by these external characteristics. And they aren't the type to sit around and complain about how the world is stacked against them or engage in a bunch of symbolic posturing.
To which it can be added that although McCain is technically a Boomer, he comes across as pre-Boomer (as was widely observed by the media at the convention).
Which leaves Joe Biden, who is many ways strikes me as a very Boomer sort of person (which one of my colleagues at lunch today summed up as "Me, Me, Me" in echoing agreement with this observation).
I've heard Michael Barone observe that this is part of the defining experience of our past two Baby Boomer Presidents (Clinton and Bush) who embody the two different sides of the Baby Boom generation and all the baggage that goes with it. I suspect that Baby Boomer fatigue may have had something to do with the inability of Hillary, John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney to get over the hump in the primaries (all of whom seem quite Boomerish to me). And whichever side you are on, the other side doesn't just have bad ideas but must be a bad person.
And in thinking about the comments by Blue and David Warner that we're talking about post-Boomers here, this is the characteristic of Obama and Palin that the mass media--dominated by Baby Boomers in senior positions--simply doesn't seem to understand. So we keep seeing these efforts by the media to engraft this Baby Boom intellectual baggage onto Obama and Palin. While one might question Obama's judgment on his associations with William Ayres and Jeremiah Wright, I don't think any sensible person seriously thinks that Obama approves of the things those guys say and do. And has become comical to watch Baby Boom media commentators try to fit Sarah Palin into their mental models. It is just weird to me to see old-style folks on both sides try to gin up dislike of these two very appealing people.
Perhaps I'm wrong as this is based on my personal observations, but I think that most post-Boomers see this whole game as sort of ridiculous. And to my mind, at least, simply more evidence of the self-absorption of the Boomer media folks in trying to fit these new people into their crabbed, pre-existing mental constructs than to actually open their eyes and recognize that something new and important is going on. Or to put it more bluntly, most of what these Boomer media-types are obsessed with is BS. And you can tell that Obama and Palin both think it is BS too, although they respond to it differently. But interestingly enough, both of them try to approach it by focusing on points that unite people and which gain consensus. Obama's approach is to try to trascend it with big themes and trying to find ground of agreement. Palin's approach is to try to cut through it by focusing on efficiency, competence, accountability, and pragmatism in governance--by all accounts the focus of her term as governor has been on getting things done, accountability, and problem-solving, rather than pushing divisive ideological themes.
This is also why I wasn't surprised when Obama reacted the way he did to the intrusive media coverage of Palin's daughter's pregnancy--I think he probably just isn't interested in trying to destroy anyone over something like a political election. And as a parallel, this is why Palin's humor is so effective--there is no mean edge to it, but a sort of joshing, "let's have fun and not take ourselves and all of this too seriously" aspect to it (compare that to the way Rudy Giuliani delivered the same sort of jokes). Both are very non-Boomer, I'd say.
If our commenters are right, this is sort of a neat point--and an optimistic one, I think, for the future of the country.
P.S.: On Obama, this gives me an opportunity to direct readers to a neat piece by Harvey Silverglate a little while back on the death of parody. As Harvey notes, I think correctly, the outrage over the New Yorker cover cartoon a few weeks back simply missed the point--the parody there was not in suggesting that Barack and Michelle Obama were domestic terrorists. The parody was in making fun of those who would try to paint Michelle and Barack Obama as domestic terrorists (as Harvey observed, "the joke was on his enemies").