US Elections

Generation X enters White House

2008-11-07 10:03

Special Report

New York - Generation X used to stand on the sidelines. Now, with Barack Obama's victory in the presidential election, they're taking the White House.

That shift from Baby Boomers to Generation X is part of seismic change under way in the United States, as Obama readies to replace President George W Bush in January, experts say.

Ironically, Generation X, or those born between 1961 and 1981, have long been identified by sociologists as reluctant to get involved, individualistic and cynical.

But "now it is our time. There is right now a desperate, urgent sense of 'stand up and change things,'" said Jeff Gordinier, editor-at-large for men's fashion magazine Details and author of a recent book, X saves the World.

"I can't pretend to be cool and skeptical and detached forever," he said.

A post-boomer politician

Gordinier says Obama not only fits the Generation X mold in age, style and biography, but came to power partly thanks to the enthusiasm of that same demographic group.

Neil Howe, author of Generations: the history of America's future, also sees Obama as the archetypal X-er, growing up in the 1960s and 70s and experiencing early on all the major social changes in family values and behaviour.

"Obama was the product of an experimental inter-racial marriage: the father left, he travelled all over the world, a topsy-turvy, chaotic childhood, which is characteristic of Xers," Howe said. "There is no accident that he has defined himself as a post-boomer politician."

With an X-er in power, governing style could change significantly.

Celebrating his 32nd birthday on election night Tuesday, New York video producer Aaron Freeman predicted that Obama "will be a leader who will lead all Americans ... instead of appealing to just one ideology".

Freeman was summing up why so many young people supported Obama in the election and his prediction was one that experts agree with.

Obama's "mission is to put an end to everything that is dysfunctional and bad about boomer politics," Howe said.

People tired of ideological arguments

"You are going to see a style of leadership which is much more pragmatic, less wed to ideology. A Generation X-er will love to crunch all the numbers, demand transparency, analyse the data and come to decisions," he said.

Obama has already given indications of that more eclectic, non-ideological direction.

For example, he talks fluently both about traditional capitalist work ethic and also the need for greater state social aid. He is a liberal on many social issues, but a strong family man who recently criticized the youth fashion of wearing trousers half way down the buttocks.

The X-ers may have the White House, but by other measurements they are still on the sidelines.

In the 1980s, the Baby Boomers already had 10 of their number in the US Senate and accounted for 32% of the House of Representatives. The numbers for Generation X are respectively five and 16%.

But inevitably their generation is rising to the top, with mayors in Newark and San Francisco and a governor in Louisiana.

"People are tired of ideological arguments," Gordinier said. "It is a boring show. We are tired of right and left. The idea is building bridges between people who usually would disagree."

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