A dozen years or so ago I was talking to an old school radical about my favorable opinion of Todd Gitlin’s call to lay aside identity politics for the greater good of the country. We were at a three day conference, and it was my bad luck to bring this up at dinner of day one. For the rest of the conference, this old school fellow spat the name “Todd Gitlin” with contempt. At every opportunity.
Fast forwarding to today, my children, all now in their twenties, demonstrate a generation gap with us baby boomers as wide, if far more subtle, than that which divided us from “the greatest generation” some forty years ago. To them, Todd Gitlin would not have been merely right; what he had to say was so obvious it hardly required comment (except to those old folks who still thought in those old fashioned “identity” terms.)
We thought they were taking the hard won gains of minorities and women for granted. When, during the height of the Gingrich “revolution,” my teenage daughter made fun of what seemed to her to be feminist rigidities, we’d caution her to be more vigilant because conditions could easily revert to what they were when we were coming of age. We said this because, well — that’s what the older generation does.
Our daughter would look at us as if we each had two heads. That’s what the younger generation does. That’s what we baby boomers did when our parents told us we were taking all their sacrifices made during the Depression and Second World War for granted.
The younger generation, ours back then and theirs today, move beyond the older generation’s framing to embrace a newer way of seeing things. This is the structure of progress.
Barack Obama has been mining that generation gap as subtly as all the gen-gap miners in the sixties weren’t. Here, in part, is what Ted Kennedy said in endorsing Barack Obama:
Like most of the nation, I was moved four years ago as he told us a profound truth—that we are not, we must not be, just red states and blue states, but one United States. And since that time I have marveled at his grit and his grace as he traveled this country and inspired record turnouts of people of all ages, of all races, of all genders, of all parties and faiths to get “fired up” and “ready to go.”
I’ve seen him connect with people from every walk of life and with Senators on both sides of the aisle. With every person he meets, every crowd he inspires, and everyone he touches, he generates new hope that our greatest days as a nation are still ahead, and this generation of Americans, like others before us, can unite to meet our own rendezvous with destiny…
Now, with Barack Obama, there is a new national leader who has given America a different kind of campaign—a campaign not just about himself, but about all of us. A campaign about the country we will become, if we can rise above the old politics that parses us into separate groups and puts us at odds with one another.
And here, swooping in from the wings, comes a blast (from the past?) at Ted Kennedy:
The National Organization for Women’s New York chapter on Monday issued a scathing response to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s endorsement of Barack Obama over Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary, calling it a “betrayal” of women.
Marcia Pappas, NOW-NY’s president, wrote in a news release that on a host of issues and positions, “Women have forgiven Kennedy, stuck up for him, stood by him.”
“We are repaid with his abandonment. He’s picked the new guy over us. He’s joined the list of progressive white men who can’t or won’t handle the prospect of a woman president who is Hillary Clinton,” she added.
Pappas blasted a number of other people and Democratic groups, including national Democratic Chairman Howard Dean, Progressive Democrats of America, democrats.com, and “Kucinich lovers and all the other groups that take women’s money, say they’ll do feminist and women’s rights issues one of these days, and conveniently forget to mention women and children when they talk about poverty or human needs or America’s future or whatever.”
She also said Kennedy’s move underscores “our obligation — to promote and earn and deserve and elect, unabashedly, a president that is the first woman after centuries of men who ‘know what’s best for us.’ “
Kind of makes the point, doesn’t it?
My kids would laugh.