Gen Jones rules

But will they be practical problem solvers or scatterbrains on steroids?
By STEVEN STARK  |  March 19, 2009

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One of the major themes of Barack Obama's political philosophy has been that it's time for America to move beyond the Baby Boom Generation's petty partisanship. In The Audacity of Hope, he wrote that when he observed politics in his younger days, "I sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the Baby Boom Generation — a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago — played out on the national stage."

Once he became a presidential candidate, Obama picked up on the theme. "I think there is no doubt that we represent the kind of change that Senator Clinton can't deliver on, and part of it is generational," he said. In a key article boosting Obama in December of 2007, Andrew Sullivan in the Atlantic argued that Obama "could take America — finally — past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom Generation that has long engulfed all of us."

So Obama, even though some would technically still consider him a late baby boomer (or part of the transitional "Generation Jones" — born in 1961) became the president of a new generation, boosted by strong support among an even younger generation. In the White House, he has surrounded himself with his generational cohort, including Rahm Emanuel (two years older) and Tim Geithner (same age as the president).

By looking at the characteristics of Obama's generation, we can learn a lot about the leaders we're putting our faith in. The result? We might be on the verge of either the first "Blackberry Presidency" or, figuratively, a "Steroid Presidency."

What characterizes the Obama generation? To its boosters, like Jonathan Pontell, author of the "Generation Jones" construct, they (people born in the mid-1950s to the mid-'60s) are "practical idealists," tempered by growing up in a world in which many of their parents were more interested in self-fulfillment than they were in their children. That meant that, as latch-key kids stuck in front of the TV or left to their own devices, they had to master their own destiny at an early age the best they could.

"Where the Boomers naively tried to change the system and the Xers in a sense walked away from the system, my generation used the system to get what we wanted," Pontell told a reporter. "It's like the Boomers never realized they were playing the game, the Xers folded their cards, and my generation was wise to the game but said deal the cards anyway."

Spinning it all positively, a post–Baby Boomer sees a problem or opening and solves it. That's certainly a trait one would want in a president right now and Obama demonstrated he had it by "audaciously" running for the presidency at such an early stage of his career.

Then there's this generation's love of technology and "the new," forged in Andrew Thompson's words "out of a lifetime of upgrading from Atari to Nintendo to Sega to Xbox." Thompson, who writes the blog Gen-X Rising (genxrising.com), wrote perceptively of his generation (and he considers the slightly older Obama a compatriot), "We . . . were shaped by rapid technological change smack-dab in the middle of our most formative years. And that molded the way we understand the world in which we live."

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