Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Is this really about race and/or gender?

Or is it about generation? I keep hearing the criticism that Barack Obama is too inexperienced, too unseasoned by life, particularly voiced by people of my generation. And I'm wondering if what is actually being said is "he represents the new, not the familiar, and that's scary to me".

There are lots of things about Obama that are new and unfamiliar to my generation and my elders: his mixed-racial heritage, his emphasis on Hope and Change rather than business as usual, his confidence in our ability to work together to bring back the American dream, his lateral, rather than linear, approach to power politics. He's competent with technology, he uses it to reach his constituents, he's a challenge to the old ways of doing things. He's, if not the messiah, a thrilling speaker who seems to capture sincerely the innate sense--in me, at least--that there are better ways of solving America's problems than to just keep on doing what we've been doing.

Though I voted for him in our primary, I also cheered on Hillary Clinton, for her dogged pursuit of the nomination. I think a woman would also bring to the presidency a new vision. But Hillary is of my generation and she is more of a "business as usual" person. It seems to be the M.O. of the "older generation" to criticize and fear the actions of the "younger generation". And that's what I see happening here.

This human tendency is present in us regardless of our race or gender. We question whether our youth can manage without us. We question whether one so young can have the requisite wisdom to lead. We are afraid that a youth's confidence is not as solid as an elder's seniority. We worry that eloquence is not as valuable as battle scars.

These are reasonable worries, of course, but they also gloss over the deeper issue: are older people willing to let younger people take the lead? Will it mean too much new stuff to get used to? Will we be able to survive in a nation that is using technology that is way beyond us? Are we archaic? Do we have any use?

John McCain represents these fears in many, regardless of their age. Barack Obama represents those who are itching to get on with a new approach to politics and American life.

We all want our nation to regain the respect of other nations. We all want our nation to represent a high ethical standard. We all want our nation to lead the way in human relations and compassion.

But I ask, are the old ways better? Or are we at the point where we need to let go of many of the old ways and let the new ways begin to take the lead?


Lizard Eater said...

Very good post, Ms. Kitty.

Whether it's race, gender, or age, I think "fear" is the overriding issue. Those who doggedly are convinced Obama is a Muslim, that he's too "risky." That we don't "know" anything about him.

I worry that McCain will get too many votes as a result of "the devil that you know ..."

Ms. Theologian said...

There certainly are some generational issues, but Obama is a Baby Boomer, isn't he? He shouldn't have a shortage of votes if he's picking up Baby Boomers in his demographic. And then we're talking about issues with the Silent Generation and Greatest Generation, which are far smaller in numbers.

I think Lizard Eater's point is a good one about fear of the unknown.

Also, Obama fails the Frat Boy Theory of Presidents, which sadly enough seems to be the persona that one needs to be elected. Eat pork rinds with your constituents, drink beer, and hide the Harvard education. That's what we seem to elect time after time, and that makes me think there's really some class issues here too (not that they all aren't rich).

Joel Monka said...

Isn't it possible that "too inexperienced, too unseasoned by life" actually MEANS too inexperienced, too unseasoned by life? His experience at the national level is less than four years in the Senate. The only other sitting Senator elected President, JFK, had six years in the Senate, six years in the House, and a heroic military career before that. Compared to that record, he *IS* "too inexperienced, too unseasoned by life" If you set aside the charming smile and the golden voice and just read the resumes, you'd find it impossible to believe that Senator Biden is on the bottom of the ticket rather than the top.

Only one Democrat since WW II has gotten 51% of the vote, and that was LBJ, while the country was still in mourning for JFK. President Clinton won with 43% of the vote the first time, and 47% the second time- which is exactly the numbers Senator Obama is polling right now. Considering that Obama's resume is even lighter than Clinton's- he, at least, had executive experience as a governor- I'd say Senator Obama is doing better than should be expected. There's no need to look for code language or secret motivations when the questions raised are valid on their face.

Miss Kitty said...

AN excellent post. I'm flad you summed it up like this. I've been wondering whether the whole thing really IS abuot race and/or gender. Of course, here in the Deep South, a lot of it IS Obama's skin color. [sigh]

Anonymous said...

I would agree Joel except that everytime I have this converstation (IRL) it starts with "he is too inexperienced" and then the very next point is that he is an unknown, black/mixed race, Muslim heritage, etc. I also have a very good friend, who is quite intelligent, who will not vote for Obama because she sincerly believes he is the anti-Christ.

Kari said...

OK, OK, maybe technically he's a baby boomer, but the war had been over for a very long time when he was born, I think he's more of a Gen X-er. And you know, experience can only get you so much. This we know from our own congregations. Sometimes what we really need in a leader is someone with a vision and a passion who knows how to ask the experienced folks for help.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks for all these great insights and comments!

Mile High Pixie said...

I'm glad to see this post, Rev. Kit, and to see Ms. T commenting. I have noticed some bias against the younger folks in my office because "they just don't know enough." Yes, there are some things they don't know, but there are some skills that they bring to a project that are valuable and useful. In that same vein, is ANYONE competent enough to be president? If we buy the theory from Douglas Adams, of which he wrote in "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," the best sign that someone isn't fit to be the leader is because they want the job.

ms. kitty said...

Good point, Pixie. Thanks.

Joel said...

I think one of the big generational issues is that the mixed-race thing, for my generation, is a non-issue. I suspect a fair number of older voters will vote for Obama because he's black (or half, or whatever), if only to prove to themselves subconsciously that they really don't notice. But those of us who were born after the word "miscegenation" ceased to be relevant really don't have much issue with it.

Kari, I would disagree with you about Obama's generation. He's young for a Baby Boomer, but his talk certainly fits the profile better than Gen-X. "Hope and Change" aren't nearly as relevant to a generation whose motto has been "Whatever."

Joel said...

Eat pork rinds with your constituents, drink beer, and hide the Harvard education.

I should have noticed this earlier. Wouldn't the beer and pork rinds put to rest the "closet Muslim" canard? Maybe he should try that.

ms. kitty said...

Hey! Maybe we ought to send the DNC that comment, Joel.