You wake up one day, and you go off to greet your parents. Maybe it’s at an airport, or maybe it’s just down the block. There’s one day etched in your memory as the day you realized it. That one day when the years of worrying about you and all the other things that crossed the lives of your parents are etched in their faces and pulled out the thinning strands of their hair. One day, your parents suddenly look old.
It happens to all of us when we start to hit 40 or so. It’s a magical age when we have our own things happening all around us and the freedom of being an adult starts to weigh on us. We don’t necessarily notice what’s happening around us because it happens too slowly to match our frenetic pace yet too quickly too register from one day to the next. One day, we’re the ones who are about to make the decisions that make a difference.
What we might call Gen-X is now 43 years old and we’ve hit that day. Our parents might one day soon be in our care, and we can see it happening. Our kids are getting old enough that things like college are looming fast. And as of this election, we are now a solid half of all the voters of this nation. Our time is now.
The election of Barack Obama means many things, all at the same time. He’s black, he’s a Democrat, and he is eloquent. What is most important, however, is that he has embraced the leadership and the hopes of a new generation of Americans, those of us born after the passage of the Voting Rights Act. We are the new generation of Americans that made this possible.
His style is going to be different enough that this was not just a referendum on who would be our President, but what a President actually is. We can expect a style more in tune with his campaign, collaborative rather than based on command. He will seek out opinions different than his own for the simple reason that he knows that to lead is to be intelligent – and he knows what he does not know.
This election was a mandate based on many different things. What it ultimately came down to is that the generations that make up this nation, each with their own experiences and ways of doing things, are changing. It is a lot like waking up one day and finding out that the world really is yours, complete with all the responsibilities and challenges.
Our parents may not look quite like we remember. Their day hasn’t quite past, so we have to be careful. But we can see that pretty soon it’s gonna be our turn.
Let’s do this.
Postscript: I walked home from a seriously dull Minnesota Public Radio event full of white liberals chanting at every small win and booing every small loss. I was walking away from this in dismay, wondering if the moment had somehow escaped so many people, when it came from a car passing by:
I turned to see a black man, about my age, clearly just driving around in a kind of ecstasy that only comes once in a lifetime. I called back:
He was only getting started.
“Barack Hussein Obama! President Barack Hussein Obama!”
“Fourty Fourth President Barack Hussein Obama!”
For all the white people I spent the evening with, this made it special. Someone just like a person far, far on the outside had made it. He was shouting it to the world. Only a fucking idiot wouldn’t want to be part of that joy. I’m going up to Seventh Street to shout at all the cars that go by for a moment, just like a fucking idiot.