Monday, February 04, 2008

A Boomer for Obama

Posted by PicasaTed Kennedy, Barack Obama and Caroline
Kennedy campaigning before the Feb. 5 primaries.

A Boomer for Obama

I posted this at Daily Kos, and got some interesting comments--take a look.

The last week or so—from the Sunday oped in which Caroline Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama, to the following endorsements by Ted Kennedy, Ethel Kennedy and Maria Shriver-- was an emotional journey for many members of the generation that usually gets stereotyped and vilified in the media and on the Internet, the Baby Boomers.

Of course we were the ones who marched behind the actual Dr. King at unknown risk to ourselves, who sucked tear gas and faced the rifles of soldiers to stop the Vietnam war, and who had our lives formed and deformed by moral decisions we had to make at a young age, thanks to the draft. And by "we" I mean "me."

According to the accepted demographic definition, Barack Obama is one of us. The Baby Boom extended from 1946 to 1964. But those of us born at its beginning know that he's of a new generation, and I'm here to say why we (meaning me and lots of others) are so happy to see the torch passed to him. [continued after photo]

Caroline Kennedy first endorsed Barack Obama in
a New York Times oped entitled "A President Like
My Father."
Posted by Picasa
There aren't too many Boomers older than me. Born at the end of June 1946, about ten months after World War II offficially ended, I'm six weeks older than Bill Clinton, and several months older than G.W. Bush. I was 14 in 1960, when I participated in my first political campaign, on behalf of John F. Kennedy. That summer and fall were great times for me. I thrilled to the first pennant run in half a century by the Pittsburgh Pirates, who played about 35 miles away. And I thrilled to the first political convention I paid close attention to, and to Kennedy's acceptance speech.

Then my team won the World Series in October, and my candidate became President in November. I even managed to visit Washington during the Inauguration, and by cunning and luck, I was one of the first ordinary Americans to shake hands with President Kennedy. In the same year I shook hands with JFK and Roberto Clemente!

The Kennedy administration was a big part of my education. There are a lot of names I've forgotten over the years, but to this day I can name the starting lineup of the 1960 Pirates, and JFK's entire cabinet, right down to the Postmaster General.

The Kennedy legacy--both JFK and RFK--is very real to me, and I appreciate even more today what it meant. For example, JFK's speech at American University--where Senator Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy endorsed Obama --should be remembered as one of the most important in my lifetime, and perhaps in human history. It was so eloquent that it even moved the Soviet Premier to join in the nuclear test ban treaty, the first real step away from unchecked nuclear weapon proliferation. Along with Kennedy's subsequent efforts to get the treaty completed and ratified by the Senate, it may have saved the planet.

And that speech was one day before JFK spoke to the nation about the need to finally make good on the constitutional promise of equal rights, and to start by passing a voting rights act. Both were in 1963, the last year of his presidency and his life.
Posted by Picasa
We won't go into the unspeakable decades that followed, or their effect on my generation. I'll skip to my 60th birthday, to help me explain why Monday was so important to me, and I expect to others my age and older.

The realization that, as Captain Picard put it, there are fewer days ahead than behind, sooner or later focuses your mind. Partly due to other circumstances and insights, I saw that what most people think of as "the present" was over for me. Not the present moment--which actually becomes more important--but the present of accumulating, networking, career, keeping up with the latest whatever, moving up some ladder or another, etc. If you haven't "made it" by 60 (whatever "making it" means to you), it's unlikely anybody's going to let you try anymore. (In fact, that often happens now at 50.)

I still have things I'd like to accomplish (mostly things I intend to write), but even when they're somewhat the same as before, the reasons are different. What becomes important is understanding your past, and communicating it--or what you've learned from it that's pertinent-- to the future. The past becomes much more of the content of your life, and the future--not your future, but THE future-- becomes more important.

I have to say at this point that despite the temptations of stereotypes, not all baby boomers are the same: not even all white males. Some of my friends are retiring, but others like me don't see that possibility, though we're pulling back. Some of us have powerful positions in business, government, media and so on--or we did--but most of us don't and didn't. And if we don't or didn't, most doors are now closed to us--we're too old. The cliche of the wealthy suburban Me Generation boomer eager to soak up Social Security along with our huge stock portfolios describes almost nobody I know. Certainly not me. Some of us not only paid our dues, we paid for them.
Posted by Picasa
All of this is to explain why you don't have to be young to respond to Barack Obama. In fact, the Kennedys showed you exactly why some of us are so enthusiastic. It's partly about what we once had--what we are so happy you can now have: a real leader you can admire, who can create opportunities for you to participate. A leader who can inspire you, not to be a mindless follower, but to think and feel anew, and to grow and learn in positive ways for your lives and your time, and for the future.

It's partly about what we lost, about what JFK used to call "the unfinished business of this country" that has remained unfinished all our lives. We know what our best leaders had, and we see what's needed now.

That's what the Kennedys saw. Ethel Kennedy formally endorsed Obama after Caroline, Ted and his son (Rep.) Patrick, but she may well have been
the first of them to see what they came to see in Barack Obama:

It was on a November day in 2005, near the end of Mr. Obama’s first year in the Senate, when he was asked to deliver a keynote address at a ceremony commemorating the 80th birthday of Robert F. Kennedy. The invitation was extended by Ethel Kennedy, who at the time referred to Mr. Obama as “our next president.”

“I think he feels it. He feels it just like Bobby did,” Mrs. Kennedy told me that day, comparing her late husband’s quest for social justice to Mr. Obama’s. “He has the passion in his heart. He’s not selling you. It’s just him.”

But maybe it was best expressed by Harris Wofford, former U.S. Senator from PA who was with JFK from that 1960 campaign on. A Politico
piece said:

One of the former advisers, Harris Wofford, said Obama “touches my soul.” "For me, no one has done that since John, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King,” Wofford said in December. “I waited a long time to have that feeling.”

But the connection is not just from the Kennedy legacy to Obama, or from that past to the present. It is about what the past tells us is necessary to meet the particular challenges of the present to create a better future.

I think about the future a lot. If I didn't, I'd have a different screen name. I see the challenges of the Climate Crisis and what meeting those challenges will require. And I see in Barack Obama's approach the hope that those challenges can be met. Because he talks about empathy, cooperation, the common good, and that we're all in this together, as well as because he talks about clean energy, environmental and social justice, government responsive to common needs as well as being responsible to those who need help the most.

Now those of us who lived through the Kennedy years are also going to advise caution and care. We've seen where high emotion can lead, and those ecstatic crowds do give us pause. Without dampening enthusiasm, we want to keep things in perspective and with a center of quiet and consciousness. But I sense that Obama knows this, and he is watchful and careful. Meanwhile, you won't mind if we share in all the youthful exuberance.

I worked(in a small way) for the election of our first Baby Boomer President, Bill Clinton. Election day in 1992 is one of my happier memories of the past several decades. I supported him when he was most beleaguered, and I admire the work he's done in the world since he left office. In a different time, I would happily support Hillary Clinton. But the politics that the Clintons practice, particularly in this campaign, are not going to get it done--not now. I see the future in Barack Obama, and I hope in the people he will attract and energize and lead. I'll be here to have my say. But I'll feel better that the future is in good hands