All this talk of the candidates' youth reminds me of when the baby boomers first emerged as presidential candidates. The baby boom generation is usually defined as birthyears from 1946 to 1964. In 1988 Dan Quayle (b. 1947) was the first baby boomer to be elected vice president, and in 1992 Bill Clinton (b. 1946) became the first boomer president. In the 1992 election, Clinton was tagged as very young for the presidency, and his candidacy contrasted sharply with his much older opponent, the WWII-generation George H. W. Bush (b. 1924). In 1996 Bob Dole (b. 1923) was the last of the WWII generation candidates. Since then, the major candidates have mostly been boomers or slightly older: George W. Bush (b. 1946), Dick Cheney (b. 1941), Al Gore (b. 1948), Joe Lieberman (b. 1942), John Kerry (b. 1943), John Edwards (b. 1953), Hillary Clinton (b. 1947), Rudy Giuliani (b. 1944), Mitt Romney (b. 1947), Bill Richardson (b. 1947), Mike Huckabee (b. 1955). John McCain (b. 1936) and Joe Biden (b. 1942) are part of the "silent generation" born between 1925 and 1945, and will likely be the last major candidates from that era.
We've had sixteen years now of boomer presidencies, and it looks like this election may well mark the tail end of that era. Obama was born in 1961. Palin was born in 1964. Both were born in those early '60s years where the baby boom was ending and the baby bust was beginning. In fact, some demographers define Generation X as birthyears from 1961 to 1981. So by this definition, Obama could be our first Gen X president, or Palin could be our first Gen X vice president.
It seems to me that Obama and Palin's historic candidacies have much to do with the generational shifts that have led up to this cultural moment. America had already moved past the height of the civil rights era by the time Obama came of age. He had more opportunities than African Americans of earlier generations, and his biracial/multiethnic identity transcends older black/white divides. Likewise, Palin grew up as the beneficiary of earlier women's movements. While she probably still faced glass ceilings, they likely were different than the ones that women of Hillary's age encountered. It has become far more normal that women like Palin could be in positions of leadership and prominence.
I am encouraged that Gen X, maligned for so long as a bunch of cynical slackers, may well be the historic generation that finally puts an African American or a woman in the White House!
What's even weirder - if the next president serves for two terms, then it's entirely possible that the candidates for the 2016 election will be Xers who were born in the '70s, like me. Yikes. What will America look like when it is governed by those of us who came of age in the '80s? The principal in The Breakfast Club said something like, "Someday these kids are gonna be running the country. This is the thought that wakes me up every night."
When I turned 35, I officially declared my non-candidacy on my Facebook status. But I'm not ruling out my run for 2016 just yet. In fact, I'll go ahead and work on my stump speech:
My fellow Americans, it's a long, long way to the capital city. Previous generations of civic leaders were inspired by the likes of Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt or Kennedy. But my inspiration to public service was the classic anthem "I'm Just a Bill." Thanks to Saturday morning Schoolhouse Rock cartoons, I know the preamble of the Constitution inside and out. Join me in singing: "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility-eee-ee . . ."
I grew up in the era of big hair, so I know how to deal with big problems. I learned to solve the Rubik's cube in 3rd grade. Balancing the federal budget should be a snap in comparison. I am a member of that pioneering first generation to grow up on Atari and Nintendo, and our minds were trained to make quick decisions. You can trust that my foreign policy has been well-honed by countless scenarios of Missile Command and Contra.
I am guided by those great philosophers who told us that there's always more than meets the eye, and that knowing is half the battle. Our country's problems may look huge, but remember, size matters not.
We have had some growing pains. But I will strengthen our family ties. I know this economy is tough. Your job's a joke, you're broke, your love life's DOA. But I'll be there for you, when the rain starts to pour.
I pledge to you that I will build bipartisan and multilateral coalitions at home and abroad. After all, if an athlete, a brain, a princess, a criminal and a basketcase can find common ground in just one day of detention, surely we can overcome our differences. We are, truly, the world.
My fellow Americans, this is not a time for fear. Fear is the path to the dark side. Instead, look back to the future. Always in motion is the future. Because life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
So this election, seize the day. When you're in that voting booth, don't you forget about me. Don't, don't, don't, don't you. Forget about me. God bless you, and God bless America.