Presidents’ Day

I don’t think anybody is all that pleased with the presidency of Barack Obama.  Many of those who supported him believe he’s focused on the wrong things or on fixing them in the wrong ways.  At the very least in different ways than they had expected when they were filled with so much hope six years ago.  And most of those who opposed him continue to oppose him because he hasn’t yet ceased to exist. 

Still, he’s the closest thing we’ve had to a president from our generation, and there’s a distinct possibility that he will be the closest thing we’ll ever get.  The so-called Greatest Generation held the presidency for an amazing 32 years and 7 presidents before tottering into history and letting the Boomers get a jumpstart on their own turn at the top, skipping the aptly named Silent Generation altogether.  Strauss and Howe say that the closest the Silent Generation ever got to having a president was Jimmy Carter, as he was the president who most embodied the values of the Silent Generation.  If an aging Boomer succeeds Obama, and has a similar reign to that of Reagan/Bush, then we will be in a very similar situation.

It somehow seems very appropriate that I can’t even say for sure that Obama is part of Generation X, and I think that will have something to do with why we have all found him disappointing in the end.  The start date of Generation X is somewhere between 1961 and 1964 depending on who you ask.  Born in the middle of 1961, the generation that probably best defines Obama is the pseudo-generation Generation Jones, which might very likely have been the generation being referred to by whoever coined Generation X in the first place.

The fact that Obama doesn’t quite fit is just part of who he is: he doesn’t quite fit into many categories.  Some say that he is the first African-American president, but it might be more accurate to say he’s the first president that is only half-white.  He’s not so much African-American as he is African and American.  His mother was from the same state that gave us Bob Dole and where it might soon be illegal to have homosexual friends1.  His father was, of course famously, an immigrant.  He got elected when two of the country’s greatest perceived enemies had names that either rhymed with his or that were his2.  It was almost as odd that America would elect Barack Obama as president as it was for the Swedes to give him the Nobel Prize a few months later.  But in some ways it was necessary in order to convince both the world and ourselves that we were not on the verge of becoming the next great evil empire.

The Barack Obama that many of us imagined did not come to be because there’s no way such a person could exist.  I imagined him being something like Reagan. I imagined him saying “Mr. Bernanke tear down this bank.”  I imagined him saying things to increase our freedoms, not apologizing for a government that had started invading them before he even took office. I imagined him in 2012 asking the country if they were better off now than they were four years ago, and though he had every reason to ask that question, the answer wasn’t overwhelming enough to be sufficient in a country with a short term memory like ours.

There was no way that Barack Obama could exist.  Reagan could say what he said because he was speaking to a country whose power holders either identified with him or wanted to be like him.  That’s probably what he’d experienced his whole life.  He could speak and it was the voice of millions.  Barack never had that luxury, because he’s always, always been different than everyone else.  He’s only been able to gain the power he now has by listening to the voices of everyone around him, not by acting on his own inner voice and trusting that it represented his constituency.  Sometimes this is called compromise.  And the result is making national healthcare a priority when there were so many other things that needed to be fixed when he became president.3  The result is horrendous ideas from the previous administration like torture and the Patriot Act are left to fester and morph into the current NSA debacle.  The result is no real change in the criminally corrupt banking system that led to the housing crash in the first place.

Sadly enough, I think that’s the best we can hope for: a president from our generation that knows how to compromise.  A generation as Balkanized as ours should be happy to even get a president.  But if we ever get another one, I’m pretty sure it’s not going to go nearly as well

1-      OK, probably a bit of hyperbole there.  I read the article but not the link to the actual law, so not sure if it goes quite that far.  Point being: not the best place in America to be a little bit different.

2-      And it was only twenty years prior to his first term as president that the father of the president directly preceding him had won an election in large part due to convoluted race baiting tactics.  Barack Obama was the sort of presidential candidate that certain types of political organizers salivate over the way that John Stewart and Stephen Colbert salivate over Donald Trump as a presidential candidate.

3-      Not to mention the fact that the healthcare plan that we inevitably ended up with doesn’t seem to be good for anybody but insurance companies.

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