Obama began to tell this story at the Durham rally a year ago, but was cut off by huge cheers as soon as he said he had worked on death-penalty reform. He wisely stopped there, letting them believe he was on their side in that fight. He was learning to keep his pragmatism hidden behind an idealistic veneer.
Savior, or sellout?
Though he may hide it from the Boomers and the Millennials, Obama is a pragmatist. He’s not talking about dreams of some great reshaping of society. His actual proposals are modest, even marginal tinkering to fix the practical problems with the programs already in place.
He’s no naive optimist, either. And he’s no great believer in government institutions. He hasn’t been sucked into Washington’s political vortex. He’s as nonpartisan as a successful politician can be — his famous speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, you’ll recall, was a call to stop viewing America through the red-state/blue-state paradigm.
But by embracing the message of change and hope, Obama may have figured out a path to the top — a path which must inevitably lead not through his peers, but through the Boomers and Millennials.
He would be the first to get there. Obama is not just my generation’s first potential president — he’s the first political leader of any significance we slackers have produced. Name a prominent American politician age 35 to 48 — the prime-time range, historically, for emerging leaders. Keep thinking. There must be someone out of that 50-million-person bunch.
Dewey, Kennedy, Nixon, and Clinton were all Obama’s age or younger when they won their party’s nomination. In 1988, six serious presidential candidates were under age 50, including 39-year-old Al Gore.
This year, Obama was the only one shy of the half-century mark out of 20 serious contenders. Only two US Senators are as young as Obama, and only six US governors.
If Obama changes this, it will apparently be by crafting and honing a feel-good, change-the-world, believe-in-me, movement-politics stump speech. Perhaps it’s a sell-out to my generation. Or, maybe that’s just my cynicism and pessimism talking.
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