Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Future = Obama?

Matt Bai's column in the New York Times offers a very nuanced interpretation of why the American public has turned so much against Obama. Bai's take? It's all about nostalgia.

But perhaps this trend [of seeing candidates from other decades make a strong run for office in 2010] hints at something deeper churning in the national psyche as well, having less to do with the president’s policies than with societal change he represents.

Mr. Obama’s election, after all, marked the leading edge of a generational transition. Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Obama is too young to have been forged by one of the last century’s great conflicts (either world war, Korea or Vietnam) or by one of its great liberal expansions of government (the New Deal or the Great Society). The president represents an America where racial and regional distinctions are often harder to discern than they used to be. In his penchant for sarcasm, he personifies the post-“Simpsons” America, where edge displaces earnestness.

Judging from polls, all this makes a lot of Americans, and especially older Americans, profoundly uncomfortable, and it may be the main reason — rather than simple racism, as some liberals contend — that Mr. Obama has fared worse among elderly voters than previous Democrats did.

Bai's points are not completely without merit. And we do see some figures from other eras (hello, Jerry Brown) making a political comeback.

However, we also see a lot of new faces rising, and a lot of old warhorses being significantly challenged. The fact that this election cycle shows a very high amount of anti-incumbency sentiment suggestgs that nostalgia for another time isn't exactly the exclusive or even preeminent driving force. After all, who could be more old school than Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA), who has been in Congress for well over two decades? Kanjorski now lags behind his Republican challenger, Lou Barletta.

(I also think health-care "reform" might have something to do with the drop in support for Obama among elderly voters.)

Obama's way need not represent the way of the future, no matter how some pundits may try to spin it. This election may be a changing of that future.

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