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David Michael Green: Obama and Kagan from Politically Neutered Gen X

David Michael Green analyzes Obama AND Kagan in terms of what he calls “generational life experience and social and economic conditions.”

Green points out that the young people of the sixties flexed socially, morally, politically coming from a grounding of economic security. The result:

.. the Boomers were such a large generation that they sucked up a lot of opportunity in the economy for those who came after them. And in part, this happened because regressivism had begun its thirty year (and counting) successful project to undo the anomalous fairer wealth redistribution of the mid-twentieth century, which had scandalously produced a somewhat just economic system for the first time since the industrial revolution, if not ever.

Ergo, the follow-up generation to the boomers, according to Green don’t exhibit true ideological conservatism, but the “narrowest agenda of self” or a “peasant conservatism.” A “natural survival instinct.” Green sympathizes but this has left us as a nation vulnerable to their narcissism:

No generation I can think of has been handed a lousier deal by its parents and grandparents than Generation X (except Generation Y, of course), and none has responded to that as silently.

If Barack Obama isn't the epitome of this mentality, then Elena Kagan surely is. Nobody can figure out what she stands for, because she has been so careful never to stand for anything. Obama's really the same, although as a former candidate for the US Senate and the presidency, he's been obliged to make a few more vague noises about political positions than Kagan has or will in her confirmation process. In both cases, though, you can look long and hard - and ultimately in vain - for much of anything that resembles a political conviction. In the end, though, what both of these folks are really about is right there in front of you. They're about themselves. They are bloodless careerists.

So Green’s sad conclusion:

The upshot of all this is that America has been moving seriously rightward, at least concerning matters of political economy if not social policy, for a full generation or two now. Where once there was a right, now there is a rabid right. And where once there was a left, now there is a collection of apolitical careerists. Given the powerful ability of the right to tilt the playing field in every meaningful dimension, the policy options seemingly open to these would-be progressives when they gain office (which happens almost purely because of regressive over-extension, rather than on their own merits) are effectively, but not actually, proscribed to more of the same right-wing insanity that has brought this country so much grief and decline since the Hollywood Cowboy rode into town and borrowed insipid two-dimensional morality plays from the sets of B-movie lots and screened them as the cheap horror production known as American politics.

And, Green on the grotesque amorality of the right’s agenda:

…. The entire center of gravity of the Court (and the federal courts below it) has shifted dramatically rightward. Not only do regressives vehemently demand that Republican presidents nominate throaty young Troglodytes to fill any vacancy (as they did when they forced Bush to withdraw the Harriet Miers nomination), but this is in fact probably the single biggest reason that they fight so hard to win the presidency. Sure, they want some twisted pathological freak in the White House who will invade hapless third world countries, slash spending on the poor, keep the womenfolk in their place, and then piously attend church on Sunday (though both Reagan and W typically managed only the first three items on that agenda during any given week of their presidencies, but they faked their religiosity well enough that they were forgiven), but what they really want is somebody who will stick a Sam Alito on the Supreme Court for the next forty years.

As for the Dems:

Democrats, on the other hand, do what Democrats do best when it comes to making judicial appointments, or anything else for that matter. Which is to say just about nothing. This is why Kagan is so representative of Obama, and Obama is so representative of the politically neutered Generation X. Imagine somebody living through some of the most contentious debates of the last decades, and serving in some of the most prominent positions in and out of American government during that time, and leaving absolutely no paper trail whatsoever that indicates any politics of any sort. I'm sorry. Elena Kagan is not a socialist, she's a Kaganist. She's not a liberal, she's just a nil.

And so, as Stevens leaves and she fills his seat, the Court marches yet further rightward, with a weak apolitical centrist taking the place of a towering progressive. Meanwhile, Obama continues to do his part to aid in the complete repudiation of liberalism …

And more sad truth from Green (money quote of his from Rahm):

And nobody says much of nuthin' about it. Nobody holds Obama's feet to the fire like the right did to Bush with the Miers nomination. Can you imagine the conversations in the White House? Maybe some twenty-something rube staffer is dumb enough to say, "Hey, don't we need to appoint a progressive every once in a while to take care of our base?" To which everyone in the room bursts out laughing, and Rahm Emanuel responds: "#$@%& those stupid #@$^&-@#$#%'s. What are they gonna do? Send us #$^@ing email? Have a @#$%ing rally with fourteen aging hippies doing a sit-in at Harry Reid's office? $#@&$ ‘em, and the horses they rode in on. We answer to Wall Street, son."

So the short version of the story is that the aberration of partial economic justice and democracy that characterized the middle of the twentieth century is collapsing all around us. That implosion has now swallowed up both political parties.


And yet there is no left at all on the national horizon, apart from an occasional Bernie Sanders or Dennis Kucinich. Indeed, quite the opposite is the case. All energy is with the blind raging tea party mentality, which only seeks to vastly exacerbate the problem through some sort of vague libertarianism that will further unleash corporate dominance and further shred what little is left of a tattered social safety net in America.

You really have to hand it to the right. They understand mass psychology so much better than progressives do. They know that rationality is the first victim of fear, and that fear breeds upon itself, amplifying its own effects exponentially. They understand how fragile a thing is a thoughtful, sober and responsible democracy, and how readily undermined it can be for nefarious and hidden purposes.

And we on the left are left with the Obamas and the Kagans, willing to be paid off for passivity, without the moral imaginations or hearts to care and prevent America's in-progress (in Green’s words) “political and economic suicide.”

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madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

You know, IIRC, Boomers as a whole went very strongly for Obama, who is himself actually a Boomer if I've got my years right.

I'm not sure how valuable Green's type of analysis is, really; although of course we are all products of our environment to a certain extent, I don't believe there is any excuse for Obama/Kagan's "political neutrality," and to blame it on their generation is just ludicrous. Sure, because I've never met a boomer who was politically neutered! Or a Gen Y-er. Or a person who's in the "post-" boomer generation.

I also don't believe those two lovely folks are politically neutered; I believe they are elitists who are trying to hide their elitism behind a facade of political blandness. But they know who their masters are, and they serve them well.

Interesting post, though, Libby. Thanks for sharing.

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

I'm willing to let my generation take the blame for many things - Carson Daly, Celine Dion, Tucker Carlson, and Kos, just to name a few - but Obama is a boomer. He's a late boomer, but a boomer nonetheless.

madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

That I, who was accused millions of times of being just not young and cool enough to "get" Obama, am actually seven years younger than he is. Bwahahahaha!

It is a shame about Tucker Carlson, though.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

Didn't like Obama (or Edwards) and opposed his candidacy from day 1.

Of course I'm Hispanic so there was a 60-70% chance I liked Hillary more so maybe I'm not that atypical.

Submitted by jawbone on

Boomer and he probably relates more to those in Gen X.

The dates may vary, but 1946 is usually considered the beginning of the Baby Boom. The end is most often around 1964. Obama was born in 1961. Since he likes to come down in the middle of two things, maybe he's a Boom-Xer. Or something like that.

I also get vibes from Obama of resentment toward his mother, who was not a Boomer, but was very much a pre-Boomer, pre-feminist. Pretty radical, actually, for her time. She clearly did not feel a need to conform, and I sense he very much does feel that need.

Interesting find, Lib.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

Obama and I are the same age, as far as what "generation" we are, I don't really know, we are the long drawn out tail of the boomer gen I suppose.

Regardless, I don't think you need to be any specific age to be a bloodless careerist. That is a cross-generational phenomenon.

Ultimately, I don't think generational politics are all that meaningful. We have a ruling elite, which has preferred to fill our politics with red meat for the suckers for generations. Carefully "non-controversial" carreerists are the inevitable result.

tarheel-leftist85's picture
Submitted by tarheel-leftist85 on

generational politics--with one condition it seems--doesn't matter after all, and careerism is a behavior/phenomenon that transcends generations, except for those who were of working age the for the bulk of the New Deal-Great Society era--when benefits were guaranteed, when people had a lifelong job, and even if they lost that job, there were others with commensurate pay (now, according to Ehrenreich, a person makes 17% less in a successive job than their previous one). i think, perhaps, ever since we have abandoned the full-employment paradigm for NAIRU, and people have diminishing job security, careerism--a status instrument--has supplanted genuine job security (incl. security of benefits that can never be lost to market "crises"). Now, the shift to NAIRU, it seems, provides an explanation for careerism as a social phenomenon, but for the elites who gave us social safety net shock therapy and NAIRU--including "scholars" and "journalists"--a causal explanation evades me! But, yeah, it's about class--specifically a group of elites associated w/ rent-seeking economic sectors advancing an agenda to restore/fortify class power) and not generation or any other identity marketing segment (though there is certainly some OFB chauvanism and sectoral bigotry). i guess as far as generation is concerned, instead of critiquing motives, we should be brainstorming how to convince members to quit habits that enable rent-seekers. the main things to demonstrate in regards to the legacy parties and teebee, i would suggest, is emphasizing that (1) both have the same policy agendas (privatization, trade liberalization, corporate welfare, etc) and goal (class restoration/fortification) and (2) each legacy party/teebee "news" firm are mutually reinforcing (pitting niche markets against one another).

Submitted by gob on

For my fellow non-jargon-speakers, Wikipedia on NAIRU:

In monetarist economics, particularly the work of Milton Friedman, NAIRU is an acronym for Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment

Good comment; I'd like it even better if I could have some capital letters to help me find the beginnings of sentences.

Submitted by lambert on

It's static, not dynamic; it encourages people to think only of their cohort now, instead of where their cohort was and will be.

That's why Andy Sullivan endorsed Obama on that basis; one happy consequence of his endorsement being -- and I know this will surprise you -- the increased likelihood of the ice flows/cat food scenario.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

He calls Kagan a "Kaganist" ....which I thought was funny. The good news according to Green is that they are not crazed right ideologues. The bad news is that they are coming from a "gamesmanship" mentality in terms of surviving in the political dimension.

I am older than Barack and when he was running I was haunted by the thought that I wished he had been older to have gone through Vietnam paradigm shift for us a country. To get the collective humbling ego lesson it had to give us as a country, though plenty on the right refused to heed it.

So thanks for your feedback. Yeah, it seems VERY simplistic. Almost like the younger sibs in a family not feeling entitled for more since the older sibs hogged the spotlight for too long but being tougher survivors in a way, not having been catered to.

Or that Jim Croce song Cat's In Cradle about ignoring your kid and having them to grow up and ignore you.

When I read his quote about Rahm's reaction to futile protests of libs ... well Green does that scathing sarcasm so well.

I gotta tell you, obama does strike me as a "bloodless" careerist. I still can't figure out how he manages to "out-teflon" Reagan so brilliantly. His razzle dazzle and the enormous willful denial on the part of so many on the not-so-much-really left ... still waiting, I guess. Or still believing the idiot media? Jon Alter was interviewed and championing Obama on the radio for his first year. Obama pushed for health care when his staff balked. Oy vey.

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

is only about Obama himself and not his administration. Sigh.

"Kaganist" is funny.

Not surprised to hear about Alter, access journalists are access journalists no matter the Administration.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

Got my Time in a Bottle entangled in the Cat's Cradle I guess. :)

Let me slink away now, chastised by those whose younger toes I just tread upon.

madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

because the corporate media protects him. Just like his ideological daddy, Reagan. Don't give him too much credit - he's actually one of the most tone-deaf politicians I've ever witnessed.

We saw this about a billion times during the campaign, but I'll give you an example. Recently, Dear Leader was in New York to praise the NYPD/FD who responded so quickly and bravely to the bomber in Times Square. Without missing a beat, he then explained that our Homeland Security funding was going to be cut drastically. Was this a big story? No, because the media buried it, just as they're burying the terrifying reality of the Deepwater Horizon oil gusher(s).

Really, I enjoyed the sarcasm too - actually, a lot of the post was good. I just get a little annoyed when people use generational analysis to excuse or explain things, especially when everyone seems to pick on my generation. Waaaaah!


Submitted by Anne on

generations; it's not like there's anything new about this breed. There do seem to be an awful - and I mean that in the truest sense of that word - lot of them in politics and government and media, so maybe we're just feeling a little overrun. The way one would feel about cockroaches or rats.

Is it possible that there are so many of them because we haven't demanded somethng better or something more and have accepted pure ambition as a substitute for a soul? Lost sight of the content in favor of optics? Gotten lost in the alphabet somewhere around the letter (D) and decided that was all that mattered?

Yes, to probably all of those questions.

Maybe if people still knew how to think for themselves, instead of lining up in front of the TV or radio to have someone else do it for them, we'd be in a better place; I am constantly amazed at how flat-out gullible people are, and that they don't see the connection between that willingness to accept whatever their pundit of choice tells them and the kind of "leadership" and "government" we have.

If people want someone to blame, the first place they should look is in the mirror, and the next thing they should do is vow to question everything, and keep asking until they get answers that are not some variation of "because," "it's the best we could do," or "you just wouldn't understand."

[Stop me before my rant goes nuclear.]

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

Perhaps they aren't careerists yet, but aspiring to be. Sadly, the ones I find most promising as far as potential leaders are the ones who go on to graduate school and leave direct political activism aside. The more purely ambitious, less detail oriented. are the ones who stay in it.

Incidentally, I see a lot of these folks following in Obama's footsteps. They rarely commit to public positions on issues. In fact, even in private, intimate and informal chats they rarely make their positions known. Its quite possible they don't have any, either because they don't know shit or don't care.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

I feel like my boomer generation really screwed up. What happened? We got a little Watergate satisfaction and let the government go back to auto pilot as cheney, rummy and other cockroaches got stronger having survived Watergate... and C student Bush ready in the wings to do his thing.

I have been hanging out first with single payers then Tasini people and now with anti-war crowd. There are a lot of committed and angry and articulate ones on the left. Some overlap, but I wish there was a UN or summit or netroots for the LEFT. Even lefters seem not to have energy or hope for left candidate like Tasini ... so legitimately disgusted with Congress Dems, even the "good guys" got played or bailed... left groups busy focusing which is good, as are websites like this one. (btw, world can't wait -- big demonstration Sat re Obama at West Point). Anyway, and then the polarization still... still on after single payer and po, those calling out Obama and those still enchanted. As lambert said, the "litmus" test for the left, how we stand re Obama, echoing back to po vs. sp.

World Can't Wait got an awesome protest ad in NY Review of Books and next target is the Nation. It is called A Crime is a Crime No Matter Who Commits it, with mug type shots of first Bush then Obama. And they call out Obama on what I think are impeachable offenses if not some to Obama specifically, war crimes of our military, the assassination entitlement, the wikileaks killings that were revealed, the special forces murder of those pregnant women and the cover up and three supposed suicides now seen as homicides in Gitmo. If you google worldcantwait you can see it. Wonder if we can post it here? Lift the ad itself as its own post? I am writing a blog right now about another anti-war event, but not ready to post it yet.

Not being acknowledged by media and maybe feeling on our own islands a lot of the time, we are a massive angry group of individuals in actuality, just getting passive aggressively slimed by media and beltway bubble boys and girls. And by people in our own social networks, I am anyway, who defend Obama despite the facts.

I should cross pollinate more on different websites, too. I threw a tantrum at Tomasky's Guardian blog, so not cool of me but I get so angry, cuz he is such a huge Obama apologist and I see him at Guardian as getting away with major obama propaganda to Brits and others. My life as a troll, I guess. I am not a good one. Screed someone accused me of delivering. Sigh.

When I read Green's imagined comments from Rahm it got me going... really angry.

Thanks guys.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

Just a ps, I was thinking about McCarthyism, and how much this reflects what went down then in terms of loyalty oaths, and distancing from one's friends, separating the moralists from the "pragmatists" (a kind word). Like in Hollywood and those who stood up to the witch hunt, and were seriously blacklisted .. sent into the wilderness .. for exercising their consciences. Having one.

I met a man, Carl Dix, on Wed. night who was sent to Leavenworth for a while for being unwilling to serve in Viet Nam. He spoke about the MyLai massacre.

This bloody administration plays hardball. Non-accountability Obama team, you can bet, is tracking down the whistleblowers behind the disclosures in that TWCW ad, not doing anything about the atrocities, themselves. We gotta stand by the troops, don't you know? And many of the troops will commit the atrocities (all that indoctrination, though it is their free choice, too), but then have their breakdowns and addictions, suicide, desertion, homicide, sexual abuse, etc. Acting out or in however ways. What a nightmare. And our atrocities have a blow back that the military and adm. and Congress and media don't even grasp or care about. We are enabling the Taleban to seem like freedom fighters over there. Getting more and more recruits.

As for what is going on with war and health care, etc. We are plain and simple dealing with institutionalized evil. Institutions that have power over us.

I am flying to CA from NY over the summer and while writing angry stuff about BO, I keep wondering if I will be taken out of line at the airport. Geeeez. Paranoia? Free speech I know, but... And then I think of people like that guy going to Leavenworth for his stance. What a little mouse I am. But we have to gird up our courage and also support each other in this calling out and truth to power fight.

BTW, Dr. Flowers, young, and Katie Robbins, very very young. Young champions. There are cowards and heroes in each gen, I know! And yin and yang in all of us. We have to call on our higher selves. Activism and courage are contagious.

Submitted by lambert on

For whatever reason, "people like me" didn't grok how bad it was going to get. And many of us had careers, families, what we considered, with some justice, "real life."

And here we are! I'm content with the idea that one can win merit with actions and plans that extend beyond my own lifetime, and I think that's the scale that we all are going to need to think on, if as many as possible of the younger people are to be saved.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

And here we are! I'm content with the idea that one can win merit with actions and plans that extend beyond my own lifetime, and I think that's the scale that we all are going to need to think on, if as many as possible of the younger people are to be saved.

Each generation gets its challenge, and we are in the throes of ours.

Confused about ur legacy party reference re Lewis Black making fun of Glenn Beck. Am I being inappropriate? Hope not.