Saturday, August 4, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

No, I am not trying to sound like Marilyn Monroe!

For some time now, however, ads have been appearing on my computer reminding me of the President’s birthday. Generally speaking, I dislike ads and normally ignore them. But I do like birthdays. A friend of mine recently said that he thinks one of the nicest things about Facebook, for example, is its weekly notification of the upcoming birthdays of one’s friends. Frankly I rather agree that that is in fact one of Facebook’s finer features!

President Obama was born in Hawaii on this date in 1961. That makes him (but just barely) a Baby Boomer.  The post-World War II Baby Boom began in 1946 and ended in 1964. So Obama is, technically at least, a Baby Boomer. It seems to me, however, that he has tended to present himself more as a post-Boomer, someone whose experience presumed rather than participated in the great cultural shifts associated with my generation’s experience.

I think that's right. A 1985 study of U.S. generational cohorts divided us Baby boomers into 2 groups. Cohort 1 (to which I belong) includes President Obama’s two immediate predecessors, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.  Born in 1948, I can well remember the deepest freeze of the Cold War. I remember fondly the Eisenhower era, the excitement of “Camelot,” and the turbulence of the 1960s.  I remember vividly Vatican II, the Civil Rights Movement, the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK’s assassination, the Goldwater revolution, Vietnam, 1968, the “sexual revolution,” the Moon Landing, and Watergate – events which profoundly influenced my generation and in much of which my generation played a profoundly influential part. President Obama, born towards the end of the second Baby Boomer cohort, more or less missed most of that, although the world he inherited – and which he now leads – was thoroughly shaken up by those events and in some important respects has not yet completely come to terms with them.

Because we were so many, we 1st-decade Baby Boomers got used to being the center of attention. When we were kids, schools and playgrounds were full of us. (Some 1400 students attended my parish elementary school the year I graduated). Undoubtedly, one factor contributing to the chaos of the 60s was that so many of us became adolescents and then young adults all at that time, with all the internal and external turbulence associated with that stage of life. With so many young people going through so many changes and interacting with a society itself undergoing tremendous changes, the world of the Greatest Generation suddenly came unglued. Some good clearly came of that, as did a lot of bad. That’s probably the way it has always been, but magnified in intensity by our numbers and our sense of being special, always the center of attention.

But, in contrast to his Boomer predecessors Clinton and Bush, the President’s personality does not strike me as particularly Boomer-like. His high self-regard seems merely what is typical in many highly successful, smart people. High self-regard combined with a desire for love and acclaim have characterized most of our modern Presidents. Who else, after all, would be willing to run for the office and subject himself to the absurd process by which we choose the most powerful person in the world? He is rather, I think, very much an exemplar of a post-Boomer world, which just takes for granted so much that we elder Boomers fought about and still fight about.
Meanwhile as we Boomers age – again, I guess, because there are so many of us - we will apparently continue to set much of society’s agenda. Our concerns (retirement, health care, etc.) will continue to be at the center of attention – marginalizing other important concerns (like the prospects for future generations, the ones who will have to live in the hotter, more stressed world we are leaving them).

I didn’t intend to end on such a somber note! Birthdays are appropriate occasions for serious, somber reflections, to be sure. But they are above all meant as happy occasions. So, as they say in Italian, Cent’anni!  Or, better still, Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this balanced post. It is important to celebrate birthdays, the days that make manifest the way that God truly loves us into being as human persons. That is a gift we all share, no matter what we end up doing with that gift.

    These are good observations, and again quite balanced. While I do have issues with his presidency, I do not hate or loathe President Obama, as so many do. Nor however, do I idolize him. That was such a prevalent point of view during his first campaign, and regrettably so. I think that it fed his already developed high self regard, as you so aptly put it. Although I did vote for him in 2008 (and yes I am Catholic and yes I did examine my conscience well and voted according to the ways that my studies of Catholic moral theology have informed me to do), I never put him on a pedestal. He is nothing but human, like the rest of us.

    Yet, your point about how post-boomers see and occupy the world offer good food for thought. And the president's POV on these matters seems very much formed in this post-boomer manner.

    So yes - Cent'anni, or as I grew up hearing, "chen-DAHN." Where is that bottle of Sambucca? :-) I pray for the president and that he may discern and grow in ways that show that God is full of surprises.

    God bless, thanks for your post.

    NB: I have no idea who to vote for in 2012, and I do spend a lot of time considering it. So far both candidates, as viewed through my eyes of faith, fail.