Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Jim Webb Generation

- Daily Kos and Raising Kaine diary, 3/8/07

There is so much discord and dissent in the present Panic Primary Race because our country is undergoing a Clash of Generations. We are at the turning of the fourth post-war generation, a generation writers William Strauss and Neil Howe call Millennials, in their fascinating book, “Millennials Rising.”

The Millennials are the only generation which will to be remembered years from now. All who came before in the political world will be forgotten.

That grates with Third Generation types who see Ronald Reagan as their avatar, and Second Generation Sixties people as well: The Second Generation’s positive influence was in a post-war time of Peace and Love, which came to awakening with a voice come out of a sleep of a thousand years: Janis Joplin, Primal Mother of the Dixie Chicks. Janis was Sixties Generational Avatar Incarnate in the Summer of Love, and that’s what Second Generation was for and about.

But Earth Mother was quickly sent back to remission when love turned to politics. At the apex, John Lennon said, “I am He . . .” echoing a Upanishads conundrum, but by the time The Beatles came back from India, the center had been passed through and the circle had shattered.

At Kent State it ended for good. Jerry Rubin, the most influential student leader of the day, wrote that after Kent State, “ . . . you could never get a girl to type your term paper for you.” The Sixties ended at Kent State, he said. So Rubin opened the gate to Wall St. for his generation and hippie morphed into yuppie and the urban entrepreneur.

But love does not do business well, as business does not do love well. They live on different sides of the cosmic river. And when the one tries to be the other, it becomes inauthentic and imitational. (And when they try a second time, it becomes absurd.)

Some in the Sixties crowd see Bill Clinton as the avatar of their generation, but he (s/he) only represents that secondary segment of the Sixties; the post-Kent State alchemists who tried to turn love to power: Out of Woodstock (when the Vietnam draft ended in 1973), off to Goldman Sacks. But theoretical physicists tell us that Particles and Waves don’t combine: One can be a Particle or one can be a Wave, but not both at the same time. (As per the Taoist fashion, Yin and Yang - again, the cosmic river runs between them).

Nevertheless, each generation fights to insure its own survival and countervailing generations are the dance of the human condition in time. In Love, the Second Generation ascends. In Power, the Fourth.

The Clash of Generations is perhaps more primary to the human condition than the Clash of Civilizations. Taoism understood this millennia ago when it fashioned a historical perspective much like the Strauss & Howe theory, finding it in nature. Traditional Chinese even give their children generational names. Generation is religion, culture and country – particularly in a large federation like our own where regional barriers yield to the participation mystique and the power of the airwaves trumps local custom and mores. But as with all things in life, there is no going back and the yielding generation always loses to the rising. In politics it is as it is in Buddhism: There is no Death, there is only the Continuum.

Recently, Strauss and Howe published an essay in The LA Times, refuting studies by sociologists which claim that the rising fourth generation is narcissistic. Millennial-busters draw a picture of “ . . . under-socialized young people fated to depression, self-destruction, violence and civic decay as they grow older."

Strauss & Howe say the study “fuels endless negative media commentary on today’s kids that will always find an audience – stories about crime, cheating, sexual license and celebrity worship.” They say these studies are widely off the mark, and anyone who has children today would have to agree. No kids? Try Malcolm in the Middle.

But, as Strauss & Howe put it, the Scolders of the Young argue from a generational point of view themselves: “many are themselves boomers, a generation that pushed up most indicators of self-seeking behavior during their own youth: violence, risk, rage and rebellion.”

In effect, today’s Scolding Sociologists are a rear-garde action of the Second Generation briskly on its way to Palookaville.

In politics today, the important question is not who will win in 2008 or even 2012. The important question is what will be the nature of the rising Fourth Generation, the Millennials? Where will they go? What will they rise to? Who will lead them?

George W. Bush is a Gatekeeper, but his fate has always been to close a gate which Ronald Reagan opened for the Third Generation. A new party could arise within the Republicans, just as the Republicans themselves rose out of the carcass of the old Whigs in the mid-1800s and found a better life. But I don’t see young people going there. McCain, probably more than anyone in politics, is a Third Generation phenomenon, recalling homage to the First. The period ends there.

A new third party could arise out of Mike Bloomberg’s pocketbook. But that is an honorable attempt to correct mischief and not a flagship. He does offer a fresh start. He is a popular, interesting and creative guy, and that could bring in new potential and possibilities.

But we have already seen a new generational spirit rising in politics this last year, and Millennials have created it and signed on to it. It first began to coalesce in the Daily Kos, Raising Kaine and the other influential blogs in the ’04 Presidential Race.

As Strauss & Howe say, the generations find their own way and create their own avenues. This generation’s first choice and first victory came in Jim Webb’s successful run for the Senate in Virginia.

Jim Webb is wunderkind. In Virginia they are starting to call themselves Webb Democrats and they joke, “ . . . is he man or apparition?” They wear bumper stickers which say, “My Senator is Fearless.” And now they are unafraid as well. Increasingly, the rest of the country is becoming unafraid, in large part due to Webb’s personal courage and character.

But the Others are freaking out. (The Others, as in the context of “Lost,” the greatest TV show ever and a cultural event which belongs purely to the Millennials, are the previous generations which are not one’s own.).

When Webb responded to President Bush’s State of the Union speech last month, calling the American uber-rich today Robber Barons and claiming that one day in the life of these Wall Street Titans is worth 21 years of sweat and labor by the common woman or man doing the real work, George Bush responded within days. He said we’ve got to do something about these high executive salaries!

Likewise, Jerry Rubin’s New Billionaires. Up here in New Hampshire thereabouts, Senator Clinton, she who is currently at the bow of this ship going confused and stuttering into the night and fog, made the same claim.

The Others have finally found someone they are afraid of. And to review: Sun Tsu says, the object of war is to disturb your opponent’s psychological under structure. Everything else will follow from there.

Webb has had a remarkable impact on the new Congress and on the Democrats. He is almost building a new party within the old party: It is small, but it is fierce. And what Jim Webb brings to Virginia, Wesley Clark brings to a wider audience. They both show growing influence on Congress and on the Millennial generation.

If you look at the various monthly polls of opinion for Presidential candidates in ‘08, you will see a stark difference between the DKos crowd and the mainstream. These are distinctly generational differences. Like Webb, Clark is also favored by DKos types and both Webb and Clark are favorites of the new generation rising today.

It is impossible to tell who will win the Presidential Race in ’08. But the outlines, ideas and trends of the Millennials are growing clearer every day and it is becoming more and more apparent who will ascend in the next 20 years and what values they will carry with them. Webb and Clark are not necessarily building a new party; it is just that new attitudes are being awakened by them in a new generation and new policies will awaken organically from that. New paradigms are coalescing around them.

The Millennials today are seeing their first days. And they have found their Coyote Trickster, their first avatar: Jim Webb.


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