Sunday, November 30, 2008
The Twilight Generation: World War II Republicans, Roosevelt Reenactors and Brent Scowcroft
by Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 11/30/08
We begin now to pretend with the new Obama-Clinton administration that we are in the Great Depression. Great Depression, the Sequel. Much as in the Bush II administration we pretended that we were in World War II again and W was the dress-up leader of the New Greatest Generation. World War II, the Sequel.
It is unfortunate that Obama has adopted the mantra of the recidivist Democratic generation which can’t see past the Clintons. Because dreaming doesn’t make it so and such dreaming leaves an emptiness beneath the rhetoric as dry as leaves in November; a hollowness echoing in the small and the petty posturing after the great ones. Invariably light breaks through, but through the glass darkly. And from that cold light will come the new generation.
Anyone wanting to get a glimpse of the new generation might catch the movie Twilight, or get Stephanie Meyer’s book by the same title from the local library. But you might have to wait in line. Five people have already reserved it in my library and if you are over 13 years old, it might not appeal to you anyway. Previews to the new Harry Potter movie appear first in the theaters, and in contrast, seem incredibly dated. The actors now are in their 20s and the themes worn and frazzled. If you or your kids were raised with or bonded on Harry Potter, consider it over. You will not like Twilight, but 25,000 million kids around the age of 13 are crazy about it.
Twilight is one of those generational bonding things. It is part of a new generation’s package in time; a package of who they are and who they are not. A friend of mine who edits a newspaper in North Carolina has always wanted her kids to see The Graduate, which I saw in 1968, because it explains to them how her generation and mine awakened as a group; a group which would form the full and possibly now complete economic arc of the post-war period. But the kids don’t get it. You had to be there. You had to be part of the generation.
The generations can change in an afternoon, write historians William Strauss and Neil Howe, who pioneered the theory of alternating generational patterns. From what I can see, Twilight is the first cultural initiative of a brand new generation which will bond within itself.
Some of the economists and sociologists today who use generationality to make predictions speak too soon, identifying those young people up to 28 who support Obama as the essential “turning” generation. It is the fourth post-war generation that we are patiently waiting for to start the world again. But as George Will has recently pointed out, it sometimes takes awhile to get between generations. When the economy broke in 1929 at the end of the third generation in the last historical period, it did not fully repair again until 1953. We are today at the critical breaking point between the third and fourth post-war generations. The gulf is large. And the generations form vastly different world; as different as the Dorsey Brothers of the 1930s were from Elvis.
Sociologists on this issue tend to advance themes they themselves like, but it is in the nature of rising generations to oppose the one that came before. Elvis was impossible to envision in 1929 and so the new generation will be.
But there is much reason to be optimistic if Twilight is any indication. The entire book came to Meyer in a dream, she said. It is a vampire movie. But it no way resembles the cloak and fangs of the tradition.
What it does suggests is the great shift in generations like that which Ivan Turgenev found between Russian fathers and sons in 1862, and that Dostoyevsky found in the shadow of a decadent and failing Russian society. As with Dostoyevsky, the sacred and the heroic are shadow people; outcasts locked away and tortured by corrupt adults. In Twilight, the vampires are humane and responsible. They have learned to curb their violence and manage their barbarism and psychosis. They are family and community oriented while the adults are frivolous and random. They are noble when the adults are vacillating and predictable; their minds easily read. They are chaste, committed and organized. They are fast and able and when they come into the light they glitter in gold. They are the Enemy of the People.
The young people who identify with this new book and movie are the people who will make our world. They will bring the first original initiatives to the new century. I don’t see them at all reflective of Depression-era Roosevelt Reenactors or World War II-era Republicans revisiting in make believe like W. But if I can be the first to say it, in watching this movie with my youngest children I was reminded of one recent president who might appeal to them: George H. W. Bush.
As unfortunate as some of Obama’s advisors appear to be in my opinion, I was trilled to read that Brent Scowcroft, President George H.W. Bush’s National Security Advisor and wise councel who warned against the invasion of Iraq, has Obama’s ear and could well be the formative influence in his foreign policy.
With the return of Scowcroft, it is possible to discern now three distinct trends in politics: the Clinton-Obamas, the W. Bushes and the H.W. Bushes. The Twilight Generation could well ride into their morning on one of these three. Quite possibly another of the three will be discarded entirely and fall by the wayside.
Recently Mark Sanford, the Republican Governor of South Carolina, appeared before the House and Means Committee, to ask that they stop sending money to his state. Deficit spending is only deferred taxes, he said. Like some of the Southern states around him, South Carolina appears to be well managed (by New England standards). Sanford has a respectable and thoughtful approach which might be considered Jeffersonian. That calls came in to Congress 10 to one in opposition to the Wall Street bailout suggests he has support in the heartland that is Jeffersonian in spirit and related to the libertarian conservative perspective of Barry Goldwater. John McCain reawakened this approach with the selection of Sarah Palin who likewise echoes Jefferson. There is a distinct Jacksonian flair to the Alaska governor as well. At the Republican Convention, Mitt Romney rightly referred to this as a “ . . . western” approach in opposition to the Eastern Establishment.
There will be a future for this point of view because the eastern establishment constantly underestimates heartland America and ignores its needs. Jefferson’s regional approach and a Jacksonian revival could well have a future in our century and if it does, its roots will not be traced back to McCain, Sarah Palin, Barry Goldwater or Ron Paul, but to George W. He may not have been aware of it, but much in his approach was Jacksonian populism – particularly his contempt for the educated in the Northeast and Europe more prominent in his first term.
The potential for this is mighty and to some degree it depends on what happens in Iraq with Obama. Headline in The Economist this week about America and Iraq: Well, is it victory or humiliation?
Youth wants to know. In the problems we have today outside our borders, President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore share as much responsibility as the W administration. Possibly more. Unnecessary wars cause unintended consequences. And as Ulysses S. Grant said, no one likes to lose a war even if it is a war we had no business in. If an Obama administration is seen as retreat, it could bring a chauvinistic response and a return to fighting.
The first Bush administration was a time of peace and good faith abroad. It was a time of even temperament and next to H.W. Bush, Scowcroft deserved most of the credit for that.
As The Wall Street Journal reports, Scowcroft said the [W.] Bush administration's two terms were "difficult years."
"The general mood of the last administration has been more a combination of idealism and self-assertion," he said. "And if the election was a vote on foreign policy -- and I'm not sure it was -- then you can say, yes, that idea has been rejected in favor of realism."
There was something strange about the father and son President Bushes from the start. Something which brought to mind Turgenev and the struggle between fathers and sons, with the son hell-bent on opposition to the father.
But there is another son. Brother Jeb, who is said to share the same temperament and tradition as his father. They dare not speak his name at the moment, but with Obama marking the trail with another Clinton, the gate is now open. Republicans will have every right to bring him forth now. It is more a question of temperament than politics really and other Republicans share the temperament of H.W. Bush and Scowcroft, most prominently Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana.
The post-Harry Potter generation, the Twilight Generation, which sees its heroes rising from the dead as shining lights in the forest, will chose one of these three paths to our future.