The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Sep 232010

Three GOP Gen-Xers offer their own roadmap, such as it is, for a remake of the GOP party and Congress.  Along with Beck (“Arguing with Idiots”) and Palin (“Going Rogue”), this will give a strong Generation X (born 1961-1981) cast to whatever happens in the coming by-election.

Three young (OK, aging X) guys come together here to draft a new political vision.  No, let’s not compare them to HamiltonMadison, and Jay in the “Federalist” papers (whose average age was considerably younger).  But, take note all the same!

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  • JPT

    I’m sort of dubious about the words of people who are already in Congress, and have been there for a while. But a lot of the “Tea Party candidates” are Xers, and most of them appear to be headed for wins in November. I don’t know if this year will be enough to tip the generational balance, but I think the shift is beginning to happen.

  • Dragline

    There are already some “voices in the boomer wilderness”, if you will, in the form of people like Representative Paul Ryan and Senator George LeMieux. Both would be happy to put social security and everything else on the table and try to hammer out some compromises, but Congress just isn’t ready for that yet. Note that Lemieux was one of the cross-over votes on the recent Small Business bill. He is stepping down now, but I bet he will run again and get elected.

    As severe as the crisis might seem now, it probably needs to get a lot worse before action will be taken.

    I view Beck and Palin as the dangerous demagogue types that the Fourth Turning warned about. All they are really doing is channeling the death throes of the cultural wars, and their audience is mostly boomer.

  • I was wondering the same thing as JPT. I’m about to study all of the Congressional candidates’ ages (or at least the top 100 most competitive) and see if this IS the year that Gen X takes Congress (or at least the most competitive seats).

  • iamhistory

    I’m certainly getting a 1859 Buchanan vibe from Obama.

  • Cohort 74

    This is the unwritten story of the 2010 election. In all of the news about Tea Parties (or Teabaggers), “anti-incumbency” vs. “referendum”, the media has totally missed the fact that this is REALLY a generational election.

    In part, I suspect, they have missed it, because the rising generation (Xers) is not theirs (Boomer). They made a big deal about Clinton, but no generational observation about Obama at all.

    But they have failed to miss even the other story, which is the demise of the Silent, who have held unbelieveable power in Washington for decades. Controlling committees, they have held power over the legislature in far greater measure than even their numbers.

    Currently, there are 8 Xers, 56 Boomers, 3 Grubbers (members of the Entitlement Generation), and 33 Silents. 13 of them are up for election in this term. As few as four will still be in office when the next Congress begins, though they could be as many as six. How did this happen?

    The four victors are Richard Shelby of Alabama, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Pat Leahy of Vermont and John McCain (who did suffer an Xer scare in his primary race).

    Five of the Silents chose to retire rather than face a tough election – Roland Burris was a last minute appointment to the seat of Barack Obama in the corruption scandal that brought down Blago in Illinois. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat, may have had problems in Republican North Dakota, particularly with the current mood. But Kit Bond, Jim Bunning and John Voinovich are all Republicans, who should have easily won reelection in a Republican tide.

    That all three faced challenges to win within their own party is a reflection of a deeper publich mood – compromise, the stock in trade of the Silent archetype, is a dirty word these days, and all three of these Senators reflected it.

    There were also two senators who went down to primary defeats Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Bob Bennett of Utah. They were also seen as too willing to work with the other side. Specter had switched parties (again), and Bennett worked with Robert Byrd and others in the appropriations committee (which has been decimated in this Congress).

    The open questions are Barbara Boxer and Harry Reid, who may or may not be defeated.

    Against these losses, the Silents had one chance to pick up a seat – Mike Castle of Delaware, who lost to a archetypal Xer, when he too was characterized as a compromiser.

    Who will gain these seats? In some cases Boomers will pick them up, but most will go to Xers. Because some Boomers are also retiring, or were defeated (like Lisa Murkowski) the effect will likely be a loss of 7-9 Silent seats with a mirred gain of 7-8 Xer seats.

    This has significant implications. First, the Xers are much less likely to play the traditional Washington game of dealing and influence peddling. Having come from other backgrounds, their base is not a political structure. They will bring a dose of pragmatism, though they have strong beliefs. They will be hard for the Boomer majority to knuckle under, particularly because the Boomer majority is so bitterly divided.

    This will make getting Silent votes all the more important for what looks to be predominantly Boomer leadership, post election. Silents, seeing some good deals (as they have understood it) dangled in front of them will likely take the bait.

    This is likely to infuriate Tea Party types, however, and over the next two cycles, when the other 20 Silents are up for reelection, we are likely to see a similar cashiering of their seats. They could be around 12-15 seats after 2014.

    And here is the final thought on this. The Tea Party, a group of people who are not organized by a few leaders, but are made up of lots of individuals who are hostile to large institutions (thus both populist and anti-bailout, and also anti-government) and who tend to preach an ethic of self reliance, is THE Xer political vehicle. Unlike the Perot movement that faded out, the Tea Party is likely to stay. It is more Republican, as Nomad generations tend to be.

    As we hear about Tea Party on election day, and moving forward, watch, as Gen X looks to take over the Repubican party. Watch as a counter-movement among Democrats arises in the 2012-2014 space, and tries to unseat Democratic leadership in two electoral cycles in which many Democratic seats are up.

    Finally, watch as Xer Governors, like Chris Christie, become more prominent and begin heavily cutting into Boomer leadership shares. The next five electoral cycles will likely be pivotal in seeing Boomers out of office.