Why Barack Obama is a Boomer

Bruce was among several correspondents who questioned a recent cartoon, in which I stated that Senator Barack Obama would be, if elected, America’s first Generation X president:

I believe that the baby boom was 1946-1964, so I don’t think Obama qualifies as a Gen-Xer.

G.M. said:

As much fun as it is, Obama is still the end of the Baby boom. I mean, he graduated high school in the 70s. No Duran-Duran or Pearl Jam for him. You know, Toto and Fleetwood Mac don’t really make for proper Gen-Xing.

Back in the 1990s, before the rest of the world hated us and people cared about generational politics and magazine editors hired me to write a lot of lengthy articles, I published a lengthy treatise on the various definitions of Generation X for Link Magazine. As I noted in the article, there’s a wide range of disagreement on which birth years constitute the Gen X cohort.

Over the years I have come to accept Neil Strauss and William Howe’s definition of Gen X as running between 1961 and 1981. Americans born between these years tend to have certain cultural and economic touchstones in common. The traditional (demographic) differential, which marks the start of Gen X at 1964, doesn’t account for the fact that those of us born in 1961-62-63 (includes me) have nothing in common with Baby Boomers–whether it’s music or the ability to afford college or our first homes.

No one has thought or written more about American generations than Mssrs. Strauss and Howe, most ably in their stunning and bizarrely overlooked tome “Generations,” which literally defines generations and types of generations all the way back to the Colonial era.

Those of us born in 1961, 1962 and 1963 grew up listening to punk, disco and New Wave–for us, the Doors and Beatles were the music of our much older brothers and sisters, if not the old stoner dudes up the street (and obviousy FM radio). We became adults during the 1980s, into a world of diminished expectations and falling incomes. Boomers were already in their 30s, and had the jobs and incomes we wanted. Conduct a poll of those birth years and I guarantee you that very few of them would self-identify with the Baby Boom.

In a way, it all comes down to how someone “feels” to you. Does Obama feel more Boomer or Gen X to you? To me, he’s obviously an Xer, though perhaps barely across the finish line of our simultaneously alienated and happy-go-lucky cohort. In the end, of course, one must look to Douglas Coupland’s book “Generation X.” When it came out, Gen X = twentysomething. By that measure, I—and Barack Obama—were Gen Xers.

8 Responses to “”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    The Baby Boom was a real phenomenon. everything else is just plastic stupidity. (generation X, Y, “me”,etc)
    what happened to categorizing someone by who they are, rather than some stupid marketing term?
    yet another nail in the coffin of American intelligence…..

  2. shazardhi Says:

    Like Ted says, you have to look to Douglas Coupland. He invented the term “Generation X,” so it’s pretty much whatever he says it is. And in his book, he defined it as a group of people born between 1961 and 1972 who (typically) have a college education, no good career opportunities, and are marked by a pessimistic attitude (and who can blame us?). Ted is going with the extended tail end (including people born as late as 1981), which may or may not have some demographic validity– but that’s not what people are arguing about. People are trying to argue about when Gen X starts, and that’s just silly and stupid. The dude that invented the term said it started in ’61. That pretty much settles it.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Punk, disco and New Wave. Yes, that is Generation X.

    Although, Ted, I tend to put genX as those born after women started using the then newly available birth control Pill. But ’61 is probably best, since those born around the JFK years don’t seem to identify with the hippy/rock phenomenon, or seemed to young for it.

    The tone and content of your articles over the years smack immediately as those written by a post-Boomer, in that they transcend the usual rancid Left/Right ravings. By THAT token, I would put Ann Coulter and Dinesh D’Souza in the Boomer generation, because no matter how hard they try to be, they can never be an X.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    “Like Ted says, you have to look to Douglas Coupland. He invented the term “Generation X,” so it’s pretty much whatever he says it is.”

    that’s exactly what I’m calling utter bullshit on, shazardhi.
    A generation is not defined by what some person who coins a neat phrase SAYS it is, it’s defined by calculable events or phenomena, such as the spike in US birth rates just after WWII ended. that’s why we call that generation the “Baby Boomers”. that’s when they were born. those are also the years when mass marketing and production took off, due to all the leftover weapons factories that switched their production lines from bombs and tanks to cheap plastic crap and Mallomars. the “boomer” generation bought into the instant gratification that that brought, and every 10 years or so since, there has been some pathetic attempt to “define” a generation through advertising and stupid products. (“pepsi generation”, anyone? how about “me”, “you”, “hippy”, “hip hop”, “now”, or “wired”? I think I’ll choke on my own vomit now)
    We are all poorer for it, intellectually and spiritually.

    you could use tragic events to define a generation, like the Vietnam War, or the Reagan years.
    …not some lucky jaggoff who successfully puts consumer cattle into a nice little definition box for future herding.
    Maybe we’ll call kids born after 2001 “the Fascism generation”

    “Buy more now. Buy, and Be Happy!”
    –THX 1138

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Let me suggest a specific criterion. Men born in the late 1950’s did not have to register for selective service (the draft). Men born in 1960 were required to file their addresses with the US government in case of a future draft or whatever. This could be a significant impact upon the perception and attitude of the person on file. Thus, I suggest that people born in 1960 should be called gen-X and not baby boom. There are few other explicit cutoff points as clear as this.

    P.S. Thanks Ted, for all you do to protect the real spirit of our nation. The heir of Jefferson and Madison is Ted Rall, not the Bush crowd.

  6. osisbs Says:

    As a 1961 issue I can say that I don’t have a cushy job nor did I qualify for free education from the military like the Vietnam vets did (I got screwed by the USMC collegefund-wise). I’m not a boomer.

    I also don’t have anything in common with Gen-X kids since my folks were not overly permissive boomers.

    I consider myself part of the GAP people who got screwed on both sides, who paid for their own colleg and had WWII vets has elderly parents. I suffered through Reagan and Bush and got out of the military to find a shattered economy and student loan debt.

  7. Jessica Says:

    I agree: he’s X. Because his whole schtick is that strident cockitude is idiotic and we should work together to do the right thing, even if that doesn’t conform to any large group’s predefined agenda.

    The criteria? No glory, just clean this place the f*** up.

    He’s a guy whose dad split, who everyone disavows (not black, not white), and what religious tradition is he? muslim-christian? asian? what?

    I’m born in 1962. I recently was assaulted with the concept of the Jones Generation, meaning that people who were late Boomers and early Xers are all “jonesing” for what might have been.

    Frankly, I don’t see it. In fact, I see the opposite: while Boomers still run around seeking perpetual life and self-glorification, GenX, particularly the older cohorts like us who maybe felt the legislation slap us in the face (no student loan for you!), feel a lot more identified and protective of the youngsters, a lot more focused on, as Strauss and Howe said, doing a good deed and leaving a silver bullet behind.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    In one article I read a mention that Obama was listening to the B-52s back in the late seventies. That is a telling detail. This not only proves the Gen-X thing, but also may prove he is white.

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