During the great social movements of the ’60s and early ’70s, I didn’t march on Selma, I didn’t burn my draft card, I didn’t burn my bra, I didn’t tune in and turn on, I didn’t dance in the mud at Woodstock. I was just a kid. I’m a member of what I’ll call ‘Generation After’.
In the 20th century, there were four seminal generations: the Lost Generation, the Greatest Generation, the Sixties Generation, and GenX. And then there were those of us in Generation After. We’re the ones who grew up in the shadows because the previous generation was blocking the sun. We had nothing left to rebel against because they had already rebelled against everything. We’re the perpetual younger siblings, seated at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving — forever.
As a result, members of Generation After have a generational inferiority complex. And, as with individual inferiority complexes, we experience a mix of admiration and resentment for those whose life experiences seem to diminish our own. And therein lays the true tale of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Much has been made of Obama’s reluctance until now to really take on Clinton or the Clinton political machine. Political analysts say this is because of his political naiveté or his promise to wage a positive campaign or his reluctance as a man to “attack” a woman.
But I believe it’s because Obama is a member of Generation After, while Clinton is a member of the Sixties Generation. While they can both be officially labeled baby boomers, there’s a clear dividing line between those, like Clinton, who came of age (college/draft/voting age) during the ‘60s and early ‘70s and those, like Obama, who came of age in the mid ‘70s to early ‘80s.
Obama simply can’t shake the sense (his own and that of others) that, despite his ambition, his smarts, his youthful energy, and his potential to make history, he’s no match for Clinton. And this is emblematic of the bind Generation After finds itself in.
The Sixties Generation made waves; Generation After sailed a fairly smooth course. The Sixties Generation grappled with the moral complexities of Vietnam; Generation After snickered about the US invasion of Grenada. The Sixties Generation joined the Peace Corps; Generation After joined corporations and law firms. The Sixties Generation fought for rights; Generation After took those rights for granted.
Generation After doesn’t have the stories to tell…about ‘Nam, acid trips, peace protests, free love, and so on and so on.
Worse, we don’t have the music to boast of, either. The Sixties Generation had the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Marvin Gaye. Generation After had Disco.
Name the living movie directors who are most admired, and Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese come immediately to most people’s minds.
Likewise, name the living movie actors who are most admired, and Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Meryl Streep top any list.
Who are the two people most credited with creating a technology revolution? Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
Sixties Generation, one and all.
That’s not to say that no one of Obama’s and my generation has made a lasting mark on our culture. Madonna, Princess Diana, Michael Jordan, Sean Penn, and the members of Run-D.M.C., among others, have all been culture shapers, and we could endlessly debate their historical importance as compared with those who preceded them. But, as a generation, we can’t claim to have taken the world by storm as the Sixties Generation did.
Yet, ironically, it’s Obama, not Clinton, who best represents the ideals of the Sixties, sometimes even drawing comparisons to Robert Kennedy. When Obama stated that he’d be willing to sit down for a discussion with any world leader and Clinton scoffed at his naiveté, she was dismissing the very idealism that once defined her generation.
But I suppose that’s to be expected. The Sixties Generation is now turning 60. The generation that worshipped youth and railed against age is now the old guard, the establishment, the gatekeepers. But they still see themselves as the future and will do whatever it takes to preserve their relevancy. And, why wouldn’t they?
The Sixties Generation grew up and screwed up. They cut their hair and put on bras and had kids and moved to the ‘burbs and messed around with their interns, and cheated their shareholders and wrote New Age books and invented the four dollar latte.
But they also fought the good fight that made it possible, in the year 2007, for a woman and an African American man to become serious contenders for the position of President of the United States.
Try topping that.