On many occasions former President Bill Clinton has given crowds a simple verbal test to affirm their ideological tendencies. If they believed that life in America got better because of the protests of the sixties then they are likely to be Democrats. If they believed that life got worse because of those struggles they were more likely to have become Republicans.
Unbeknownst to many at the time, our forty-second President was drawing a line in the sand and asking the voters to choose their colors. His call to duty was for citizens to pick their party, pick their preferred constitutional amendments, and stand behind the new guards of these selected liberties.
The question that needed to be asked at the time is this: Why is he asking us to choose sides? Why must citizens of the United States split their loyalties? What would motivate a national leader to dichotomize his constituents into separate warring factions? The answer turned out to be both personal and political. It takes 51% of the electorate to vote a President into power. Politically, Clinton was taking an accurate count of his front line soldiers and knew exactly how many were needed to secure his victories. On the other front, Clinton's father abandoned him at an early age in his life. Personally, his unresolved need to be loved by his father manifested as unpredictable behavior, including several affairs and a begrudging rebellion against the Greatest Generation.
The 1992 and 1996 elections were about us versus them. The blue versus the red, the Democrats versus the Republicans in no holds barred political combat. But underneath the surface it was parent versus child. It was eight years of rehashing Vietnam era grievances about a war that had long been over. It was a national therapy session expressed in winner-take-all legislative fist fights. After Bill Clinton fought those battles he justified the social war by claiming victory on every possible front. The baby boomers had finally taken power and they would hold it for sixteen years. Even his successor George W. Bush had unresolved problems with his father and thusly also used the 51% margin to secure his seat of power. Luckily we can learn from our misgivings and heal our resentments. In 2008 the same winds of change that once fueled partisan flag waving behind centrist Democratic leaders has shifted in a new direction with a new rallying cry and a new leader.
Barack Obama epitomizes the social evolution of this New Generation. He is of split heritage and from a split family. He is above racism and above partisanship. Growing up he survived difficult social interactions by using pragmatism to bridge the gaps left by his separated family. His climb through the college system and from city to city was marked by a desire to search for oneself through an extended adolescence in order to discover his life’s purpose. Unlike our former leaders, Obama's personal baggage is no longer an issue. He took the time to sort out his life before ascending to a high public office. His psychology is that of a negotiator, not an instigator. In times of stress he will do what he knows best — he will moderate disagreements to keep the American family together and focused on what is most important.
Unlike the baby boomers, this new generation has no social wars to fight, no personal grievances to work out. Divorced parents, a deadly drug war, and a growing gap between the rich and the poor made for a far more sensible set of individuals. These Americans are committed to avoiding the mistakes of their parents. Instead of warring with their elders they chose to bond with them, even if they resisted. Instead of claiming their right to power they accepted many smaller stages to shine from. Often times they had to be accountable for areas of life where their parents abandoned pertinent responsibilities. All the while they did not seek praise or justification for their actions.
This new generation was criticized by the media all throughout the 1990s, and yet when war struck our shores on 9/11, who was it that stood up and fought the enemy? The baby boomers are now in power. They give the orders from the safety of distant pulpits but it is the youth who march into battle. It is the youth who give their lives for our country. It is this new generation who leave their families behind to do as they are commanded. The recognition of military sacrifice is more prevalent than in wars past but the thanks are now disguised as an obligation to patriotism instead expressed as love. The baby boomers are letting their own children die every single day and they are not even sure why.
In light of such a terrible abuse of parental privilege, none of this sea change should be a surprise and yet the pundits ask questions every day about why this tide has come. Is it the war in Iraq? Is it the incompetence of the Bush administration? Is it a Democratic uprising? These issues all have their place and value but none of them really matter.
In this election year a new generation has come of age. One that has absolved itself of racism, one that has assumed a judiciousness lacking the constraints of ideology, and one that is ready to assume responsibility for parents who have lost sight of what is best for this country, for this family.
It is time for this new generation to shine on the largest stage there has ever been. They understand the stakes and the scope of the commitment. They possess the humility to know how little experience they have and thus how much they have to learn, but with god as their witness, they are ready. The time is now to pass the torch. The time is now to forgive the past, to heal this family, and to move forward together once and for all.