I don’t know about you, but I’m still pretty astonished that aging white men – especially working class, blue-collar workers – have become “Hillary voters.” Who could have predicted that? Once upon a time, Hillary was a card-carrying member of the liberal elite, a corporate lawyer who didn’t stay home to bake cookies and have teas, who ruthlessly fired travel office workers and carted off loot from the White House, who carpet-bagged her way to a Senate seat in New York, and got booed by firefighters in the wake of 9/11.
It just goes to show how true the old cliché is: politics makes strange bedfellows. Run a young(ish) upstart black man with Harvard Law degree against Mrs. Clinton, and next thing you know she’s doing shots of whiskey with a beer chaser, eating pizza and talking about manufacturing jobs in Crown Point, Indiana – and not getting laughed out of the joint!
A little more understandable are the die-hard Hillary women – Hillraisers – mostly older white feminists whose day had finally arrived. They rallied, they fund-raised, they phone-banked, and now they are angry! As one editorial writer put it mildly, “these women are trying to get used to the fact that a new generation is taking center stage here: one represented by Michelle Obama.” I feel ya, sisters, I really do.
But ya’ll are flirting dangerously with becoming this election’s Naderites -- that is to say, political suicide bombers. It’s not just your bras that are going to be on fire, ladies. It’s going to be planet earth. Hyperbole? Think back to the 2000 election when Naderites argued there was little difference between Bush and Gore, and even if Bush won, it would be by such a narrow margin he would have to govern from the center. Really. Think. About. That.
I don’t hold out much hope that Obama is going to vacuum up the blue-collar vote. Nor will Obama get a plurality of the white vote; a Democrat hasn’t done that since LBJ. But the white baby-boomer’s lack of support for Obama is nothing short of shocking. Charlie Cook – hands down the best political analyst working today, and you won’t see him bloviating on The Countdown with Keith Olberman – revealed the nasty truth back in June.
“It finally dawned on me that white Baby Boomers are the group that is really hurting Barack Obama,” Cook wrote in his National Journal column. “Of all people, the generation that brought us the Vietnam War protests and the Summer of Love is proving to be a very tough nut for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee to crack.” Cook pointed out that among whites between 50 to 64, Obama is losing by a whopping 18 points, 51 percent to 33 percent. I don’t know if the numbers have moved much since June, but that was after Hillary “suspended” her campaign.
Cook concludes, “By doing very well among African-Americans and reasonably well among Hispanics, Obama could easily overcome his deficits among whites under 50 and over 65. But losing whites born between 1944 and 1958 -- pretty much the lion's share of the Baby Boomers -- by 18 percentage points? Wow. That's a burden.”
Obama, of course, brought some of this on by positioning himself as the post-boomer candidate, repeating the mantra that it’s “time to turn the page.” About the elections of 2000 and 2004, Obama wrote in his second book, The Audacity of Hope: “I sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the Baby Boom generation — a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago — played out on the national stage.”
But I suspect there’s something more going on here than simply a generation gap, which Charlie Cook also hints at: “Is [Obama's] difficulty that these are voters in their prime earnings years, when they are most sensitive to the issue of taxes?” Hmm. I wonder.
Like politicians confirming their own worst characterizations – Bill Clinton the narcissist, Hillary the ruthless, Edwards the smarmy lawyer – boomers as a whole are living up to their worst stereotype: selfish, greedy, self-absorbed, and worse – willing to bequeath to younger generations an economic and environmental disaster of global proportions, just so long as their assets are protected.
I can forgive the misguided Naderites who were too young to know better – hell, I’ll admit to having been one. But when it comes to boomers, age does not seem to equal wisdom. It’s like a Dennis Hopper retirement commercial writ large, as The Onion brilliantly satirized: “Retirement planning means a lot of decision making, and thank God I have the soothing presence of that amyl nitrite–huffing, obscenity-screaming, psychosexual lunatic from Blue Velvet to guide me through it.” Substitute “retirement planning” for “voting,” and that approximates how I’m starting to feel about Election 2008, thanks to the soothing presence of bra-burning, man-hating, post-menopausal ‘feminists’ to guide me through it.
Lisa Chamberlain is the author of “Slackonomics: Generation X in the Age of Creative Destruction.” She lives in New York City.