There’s a completely fascinating analysis of the American political scene, and the 2008 race, at the Atlantic Monthly. Interestingly enough, unlike much of their content, it’s available to nonsubscribers– are they backing a particular candidate? Regardless, the author, senior editor Andrew Sullivan, makes a point which I, as a barely-Boomer, found to be a stunning epiphany.
Sullivan’s premise is that the true dividing line in the USA political scene is the Boomer generation’s experience of the Vietnam War. It polarized people on particular viewpoints against members of their own generation in a fundamental way but was never resolved. The all-grown-up Boomers, now in positions of influence and importance, are still butting heads over Vietnam, and how it defined (for them) what it means to be an American, a patriot, a responsible human being. The clashing impacts of these opposing viewpoints are still echoing down the cultural canyons. Or, to put it more succintly, the Jarheads and the Hippies are still fighting it out, and trying to use the Iraq war to prove their points.
This is a fundamental question, and explains a great deal about seemingly irrational elements I’ve seen operating on politics and policy during my adult life. How can the generation that literally opened fire on each other at Kent State learn to work together again? How can they be prevented from imprinting their culture war on the current generation? Andrew Sullivan’s suggestion is get Barack Obama into the White House. I am inclined to agree with him.
Obama’s reach outside his own ranks remains striking. Why? It’s a good question: How has a black, urban liberal gained far stronger support among Republicans than the made-over moderate Clinton or the southern charmer Edwards? Perhaps because the Republicans and independents who are open to an Obama candidacy see his primary advantage in prosecuting the war on Islamist terrorism. It isn’t about his policies as such; it is about his person. …
What does he offer? First and foremost: his face. Think of it as the most effective potential re-branding of the United States since Reagan. …
Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.
Regardless of your politics, this one’s an interesting read. It may not change the territory, but it sure stretches and refines the map.