Friday, December 9, 2022
Dec. 9, 2022

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Camden: Time for younger president


As heretical as it may be for a baby boomer to say, it probably is time for the next president to come from a younger generation.

Maybe someone who didn’t grow up watching “Leave it to Beaver” or the Beatles on Ed Sullivan on a black-and-white television, can’t remember where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot or watching Neil Armstrong taking “one giant leap for mankind.”

People who didn’t say “don’t trust anyone over 30” when they were young and now have trouble relating to anyone under 30. A generation that isn’t taking up an increasingly larger share of those being memorialized on the obituary pages.

This is not to suggest that President Joe Biden is feeble and not up to another four years, as many Republicans claim. He gave a good speech on defending democracy last week and seems energized by a string of victories in Congress.

Nor is it to say that former President Donald Trump, if he decides to run, should be disqualified merely because of age. He’s four years younger than Biden, which means he’d only be 78, rather than 82, if he ran in 2024.

Rather, it’s to argue that the time has come to “pass the torch to a new generation,” to paraphrase JFK. That has been the pattern in American history since the nation’s beginning. A generation gets two or occasionally three decades running the country before it steps — or is pushed — aside for a new one.

Baby boomers had a 28-year run in the White House, which is long by historic standards. The generation that came of age and fought in the Civil War, a run of presidents from Ulysses Grant to William McKinley, covered 32 years. That was matched only by the World War II or “Greatest Generation” from JFK to George H.W. Bush.

The generation between the boomers and the WWII generations, which some have dubbed the Silent Generation, hadn’t had a president until Biden.

That election was an anomaly by historic standards. At no other time had Americans skipped a generation for nearly three decades, then reached back to elect a president.

There are several things that made that possible, including the fact that people live longer and are healthier in their later years than they were for much of the nation’s history.

The other is that the years for generations aren’t a hard and fast thing, so Biden, who was born in 1942, could be considered to be on the cusp of the boomer generation. His life experiences were likely closer to baby boomers than to those born at the end of the 1920s or during the Great Depression.

By that standard, baby boomers would have had a 32-year run in the White House.

True boomer presidents have been a diverse group, representing various segments of a diverse generation.

It’s hard to come up with greater variety than Clinton followed by W. Bush followed by Obama followed by Trump.

Those born near the end of the baby boom generation would be in their early 60s in 2024, which isn’t unusual for a president. They could extend the generational hold for four more years.

But are boomers on par with the other two generations that stayed that long — the one that won (or lost) the Civil War or the one that defeated fascism and won the Cold War?

Probably not.

This is not to suggest that baby boomers should or will leave politics completely.

At about 20 percent of the population, their voices and experiences are likely to be well represented in Congress for years to come. Certainly longer than Gen Xers and millennials will think necessary.

Boomers as a group are not apt to go gentle into that good night.

But it might make sense for them to rage against the dying of the light from some place other than the Oval Office.