I think that Europe is about to suffer an outbreak of Obamamania, just as we caught the epidemic of Kennedymania in 1961, when Camelot and the young President seized everyone’s imagination. All the European countries wanted to have their own Kennedy, and aged European politicians fluttered their rheumy eyelids at their electorates, pretending to be young Senators from Massachusetts, fresh from Harvard yard.
There has been an extraordinary shift in the age group which dominates political life, in Europe as well as the United States. Those of us who are older than the baby boomers, saw them take over from our generation and now see our children’s generation taking over from them. Technically, I think that Barack Obama is himself a baby boom child, if one extends the birth dates of the baby boom generation from 1947 to 1965, but he relates to the generation born between 1965 and 1990. To them Hillary Clinton, aged 62, seems to be on the cusp between the middle aged and the elderly. Every time she refers to her greater experience, she reminds the generation now in its thirties that she belongs to an earlier generation.
My generation, now in our seventies, is the one to which Senator John McCain belongs. We find it easy to empathise with him. We were at school during the Second World War, lived out adult lives under the threat of the Cold War, and were contemporary with the Vietnam War, whether we were involved in it or not. It affected the lives, and the political attitudes of most American students. It had less impact on European students, but still had enough impact to cause the events of 1968 in Paris. To us the student experience of Bill Clinton himself is still a contemporary event. For the post baby boomers, it is quite distant in history.
The trouble with the baby boomers is that they have become too familiar. They have been around too long and there have been too many of them. They are boring to the next generation, who became students in the Eighties, but they are also boring to he pre-baby boom generation, who were students in the Fifties. I was never sure what triangulation meant. It sounded like poor geometry as well as poor politics. But Hillary Clinton is exposed to the double difficulty of having lost the younger generation without creating enthusiasm among the older – she makes good speeches, but her speeches do not relate to the hopes of either generation. She does, however, retain her identification with the women of her own age group.
In Britain, the young are having quite a tough time. They now have to pay high tuition fees if they go to College; the average debt at graduation is £20,000. They have to incur an even bigger debt to get into the housing market. The cost of rearing children is phenomenal. The norm, by the age of thirty, is a debt of between £100,000 and £200,000. There are far fewer lifetime jobs outside the civil service. The companies, like ICI and GEC, or British Leyland, which offered training and lifetime jobs in the 1960s and 1970s no longer exist.
I do not know what the ideals of this generation will prove to be, but I do know that they are responding to Barack Obama’s rhetoric or hope, just as my father’s generation in England responded to Franklin Roosevelt’s message of hope in 1933. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Hope may be an illusion, but it has powerful political appeal. If there were primaries in the European Union, I think Barack Obama would win them comfortably. I might vote for Senator John McCain, who is my contemporary, but the thirty year olds would vote for Senator Obama.
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