Andrew Sullivan has lobbed a grenade into the presidential campaign tent with "Good Bye to All That," his provocative and instantly famous essay on what for me is emerging as a central issue in the 2008 presidential race: Which candidates are capable of bringing new thinking to old problems, as well as dealing with all the new ones.
Sullivan writes that:
With the exception of Ron Paul, the Republican wannabes are a sorry bunch in this regard, ranging from somnambulant (Thompson) to predictable (Romney) to frightening (Giuliani).
"A Giuliani-Clinton matchup, favored by the media elite, is a classic intragenerational struggle—with two deeply divisive and ruthless personalities ready to go to the brink. Giuliani represents that Nixonian disgust with anyone asking questions about, let alone actively protesting, a war.
Clintonwill always be, in the minds of so many, the young woman who gave the commencement address at , who sat in on the Nixon implosion and who once disdained baking cookies. For some, her husband will always be the draft dodger who smoked pot and wouldn't admit it. And however hard she tries, there is nothing Hillary Clinton can do about it. She and Giuliani are conscripts in their generation's war. To their respective sides, they are war heroes . . . Wellesley
"The war today matters enormously. The war of the last generation? Not so much. If you are an American who yearns to finally get beyond the symbolic battles of the Boomer generation and face today’s actual problems, Obama may be your man."
The Democratic field is only marginally better, and I have trouble escaping the feeling that
Until I read Sullivan's essay, I couldn't quite put my finger on why Obama was so attractive, but Andrew nails it: My generation has had its chance and blew it. It's time to give the next generation a shot.
But is Barack Obama the Eugene McCarthy of the 2008 campaign?McCarthy was not exactly a young 52 when he challenged Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968. (Obama is 46.) But McCarthy spoke for a younger generation in basing his campaign on his fierce opposition to the Vietnam War.
The senator from Minnesota was to give the Democratic establishment fits, and although he was viewed by the news media as a novelty, he won the New Hampshire primary. This galvanized many college students, some of whom cut their long hair and shaved off their beards when they became McCarthy campaign volunteers, which led to the slogan "Get clean for Gene."
In just one of a number of shocking events in 1968, the Vietnam War took yet another casuality when LBJ announced in March of 1968 that he would not run for re-election.
Vice President Hubert Humphrey, another Minnesotan, went on to get the nomination at the stormy Democratic National Convention in Chicago and was beaten that fall by Richard Nixon in a match-up of two Old School politicians. Nixon promised to end the war, but of course did not.
Obama's stand on the Iraq war is similar to McCarthy's on Vietnam, which is to say that they were early opponents of the conflicts who had little company in Congress.
And a central theme of both their campaigns is that it is time to shake up the Old School establishment -- which in McCarthy's case was a shot at Johnson and later Humphrey, and in Obama's a shot at Mrs. Clinton.
In the end, whether Obama gets the nomination will have less to do with his ability to move beyond those symbolic Boomer battles than the reality that the mainstream media manipulates campaign coverage because of its willingness to be manipulated by the campaigns.
Along with the deeply corrosive influence of big money on politics, the incestuous relationship between the MSM and Old School politicians and the ability of both groups to create the illusion that presidential politics are by and for the people, by golly, are the most screwed up aspects of this quadrennial ritual.
So will Barack Obama do any better than Eugene McCarthy did? My instrincts tell me that the answer is a resounding "no."