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Will our leaders now come from the post-baby boomer generation?

May 14, 2007 by  
Filed under News, Politics

( As someone who could become the first African-American president, Barack Obama can’t help but make history — even the unwelcome kind.

The Illinois senator now is under the protection of the Secret Service, an unusual step this early in a campaign. Pundits insist this development is both depressing and reassuring — depressing that Obama needs a Secret Service detail because someone out there might be moved to violence by the thought of a black man being elected president but reassuring that he’s getting protection.

Personally, I think it’s more of a distraction. It serves to reinforce the idea the dominant characteristic that defines Obama and his candidacy is race — when really it’s youth.

We’ve had other African-Americans run for president. What makes Obama a trailblazer is the 45-year-old is the first member of the post-baby boom generation to seek the White House. The candidate himself set the template when, in announcing his candidacy in February, he talked about how Americans long have met the challenge of changing their country for the better. “Today,” he said, “we are called once more — and it is time for our generation to answer that call.”

Obama hit that chord again in April in laying out his foreign policy views in a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Noting there always have been generations of young people serving as “ambassadors for peace in countries all over the world,” the candidate declared “it’s our moment to lead — our generation’s time to tell another great American story.”

If Obama is correct and this really is his generation’s moment, doesn’t that mean the moment is ending for the baby boomers — you know, the generation that said it would never get old, that it never would leave the stage, that it would redefine retirement and so on? Boomers must realize if Obama is elected, it could make it less likely that one of them ever again will be elected president. From that point on, the question will be whether to elect a Democratic Generation X’er or a Republican Generation X’er. But either way, chances are the candidates of the future will be of that generation.

Don’t expect the boomers to go quietly. We’ve heard a lot from the media about how Obama doesn’t have the “experience” to be president. Every time you hear that refrain, think about what they’re really trying to say — that he’s too young, in the same way that Kennedy and Clinton were taken lightly by their elders.

An Obama presidency would be a refreshing change and almost would certainly benefit from the fact that the candidate is not burdened by what he calls the “psychodrama of the baby boom generation” with its endless feuds, grudges and hard feelings dating back to the conflicts of the 1960s. If nothing else, it’ll be a nice change — from this point forward — not to hear every foreign policy challenge described as “another Vietnam.”

Fifty years from now, people will look back, and they won’t believe that during the 2004 presidential election — the first since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — the debate in America wasn’t really about the location of Osama bin Laden but about whether John Kerry ever was in Cambodia or whether George W. Bush spent the requisite amount of time in Alabama to maintain his status as a member of the Air National Guard. You would have thought we could have found something more urgent to focus on — like how best to combat the threat of global terrorism.

We need a new national mindset, and step one is to usher in a new generation of leaders. One waits in the wings.

By Ruben Navarrette Jr.

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