20 January 2009

An Important Difference

John Steele Gordon is so intent on setting up his article, telling the story of Andrew Jackson's inaugural, the he drops this odd paragraph into the column:

Mr. Obama will be the country's first African-American president, but he is actually far more than that. He will be the first president whose ethnic identity is not linked to the extreme northwest corner of Europe. All 42 men who have been president of the United States up to now were either British, Irish or Dutch in ancestry -- except Dwight Eisenhower, whose ancestors came from the Saarland, in Germany, which borders the Low Countries. Most of the 42 had colonial ancestors (including Eisenhower, whose antecedents came to Pennsylvania in 1741), and would therefore qualify as WASPs, to use the not-altogether-complimentary -- or accurate -- acronym coined in the 1960s.


This is wrong on three counts. First, it lumps all Irishmen in together. Andrew Jackson's ancestry was from the North; that is very different, in this country and in the old, from being an Irish Catholic whose roots were in the south. Second, and perhaps this is a result of editing to fit the column space, but the paragraph focuses on Eisenhower in a way that it required a careful re-reading to see that he is not actually calling Jack Kennedy a WASP, which would be silly.


Third, in the 20th century, the ethnic origins of most Americans became so mixed, that I suspect that it is almost preposterous to claim that most American presidents since 1948 have have one particular national heritage (though I am prepared to be corrected on that. Richard Nixon's family tree includes a French Princess.)


Fourth, and most importantly, Gordon has neglected the maternal, and, in terms of nurture, more significant side of Obama's family tree. His mother was born a Dunham, which makes Obama English, just like many of his predecessors.


The more significant difference about Obama is his generation. Depending on who you read, Baby Boomers are defined as those born after WW2, up to 1958 or 1964. I believe the former figure to be correct. Not only because the demographic curve drops off in 1959 (or 60), but because the collective formative experience of Vietnam, the American cultural revolution and Watergate only directly shaped those old enough to remember or be a part of it.


This was aluded to in political campaigns by both Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France,

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French presidential candidate, addressing a campaign rally in Paris yesterday, where he condemned the Left for instinctively backing troublemakers rather than the police.


He summoned memories of the student revolt of 1968, saying: "In this election, it is a question of whether the heritage of May '68 should be perpetuated or if it should be liquidated once and for all."


If elected, Mr Sarkozy promised to break with the "cynicism" of the "gauche caviars", who he blamed for a crisis of "morality, authority, work and national identity". Citing the recent mini-riot in Gare du Nord, he repeated his accusation that the Left "systematically takes the side of thugs, troublemakers and fraudsters against the police".


and Obama, who in about an hour will be President of the United States:


"There's no doubt that we represent the kind of change Senator Clinton can't deliver on. And part of it's generational," Obama told FOX News." Senator Clinton and others have been fighting some of the same fights since the '60s. It makes it very difficult for them to bring the country together to get things done. And I think that's what people hunger for."


This does not necesarily sit well with the Boomer generation, who make up a majority of political pundits, 'senior leaders in the black community' and high ranking politicians. I think this comment from an internet chat page is refective of the mood:

I certainly will vote for Obama in November. I'd feel a little better if he weren't so dismissive of "the '60s generation" because we're still here and in great numbers, and didn't act as if he'd be happy to work with the Republicans. Because they won't work with him. Other than that, he's a marvelous voice and presence and a great step toward regaining our moral standing in the wolrd. Only a step, but a wonderful first one.

They will vote for him, they assume the Republicans are the problem, but they want their due.


Obama may not give it to them.

Like JFK said 48 years ago today,


Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans...


That is the most significant difference I see in Obama. It is for that reason that the youth vote turned out in spades. I think that is the essence of "hope" and "change" that Obama speaks of. I do not know if he can deliver on it, but I think that that is the most important difference in this inaugural.


Gordon goes on to say

So the inauguration of Mr. Obama is being seen, rightly, as a moment in American history when the idea that "Anyone can grow up to be president" is becoming more true than it had been previously. American democracy is being significantly deepened and widened by his accession to the presidency.

While this is not how he meant it, I think it does represent the public enfranchisement not only of blacks and other minorities, but of the post Boomer gerenations, and that is significant.

2 comments:

Stewart Nusbaumer said...

Are 12 year old kids now reproducing on regular bases? You do know, that is what generations are based upon? Maybe you don’t. Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t we all have our own generation? You know, you have your generation for the year or month or day you were born and I have mine. Just think, then we would have over 300 million generations in America!

Yes, the moronic are in control.

Tony said...

oooookay.