In her excellent response to the President’s State of the Union speech last night, Kathleen Sebelius, Democratic Governor of Kansas, made reference to the new generation. Sebelius referred to Tom Brokaw’s "greatest generation" but made the case that the "greatest generation" is not behind us but ahead of us.
We are at that classic 60-year shift between the third and fourth post-war generation; a time, say historians William Strauss and Neil Howe, when the country falls apart and reformulates – saved by the bell – by the fourth and last post-war generation which begins the world again.
This week we saw the awakening of the new political generation when Caroline Kennedy and her Uncle Ted endorsed Barack Obama for President.
It brings to life an entirely new generational personality and organizational direction for the Democrats, but one which has been building for several years. Mark Warner, Governor of Virginia, who briefly considered running for President several years ago, first offered a fork in the road for the Democrats. Warner, Yankee-reared and Harvard-educated, ran successfully in the Old Dominion by ignoring and condemning the polarization that had occurred in small-town Appalachia since the 1960s; dividing people by class and religion.
We [Democrats] can’t take a pass on region or religion, said Warner.
"We’ve never believed that some people count and some people don’t," he said. "So we need to stop acting that way. That’s not who we are, and we’ve got to make that clear."
Warner and Sebelius were voted by Wall St. venders two of the five best Governors in the country. Warner pioneered what he began to call "across the isle" politics, working with Republicans, working with Democrats, working with everyone who would work. It was a new idea for the Democrats: Democrats with advanced management abilities and without ideology. My Governor here in New Hampshire, John Lynch, brought the same approach to New Hampshire with great success and was reelected in a landslide.
This group was joined with a new wave of Democrats in ’06, including Iraq veterans called the Fighting Dems, like Carol Shea-Porter of NH and Joe Sestak of PA. Jim Webb, the fierce new Senator from Virginia, was in the avant garde of this new movement. As Sebelius said last night, this new group in Congress has brought a new spirit of cooperation to Congress. Her speech last night has brought the "across the isle" spirit of the "New Democrats" pioneered by Warner and Lynch to the mainstream.
And in sequence with Jim Webb who did the post-State of the Union speech task last year, a theme begins to develop. No doubt Obama, who claims the mantle of "post partisanship," will be looking to Sebelius when he is thinking of a Vice President.
Warner was perhaps the first to breach the generational divide. He had a great appeal to a younger generation just rising to politics; Sebelius’s "greatest generation" just ahead. Jim Webb, novelist, warrior and former Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, brought almost avatar qualities to the new generation. Political blogs like Daily Kos were given some large responsibility for his successful victory against big odds in Virginia.
But ‘twas ever thus: The old generation refused to move out of the way.
Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos, who coined the phrase Fighting Dems and heavily promoted these veterans on his blog, suggested in an op-ed article in The Washington Post in May of 2006 that there were now two Democratic parties; old Democrats, and he mentioned Senator Clinton, and new Democrats, and he mentioned Russ Feingold, Senator from Wisconsin and Mark Warner, who had recently scored one and two in his monthly survey of readers. (Hillary hovered around zero.) In ’06 Moulitsas actively promoted the new wing of the Democratic Party, featuring a new Fighting Dem every week.
"Hillary Clinton has a few problems if she wants to secure the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination,"
wrote Moulitsas in the Post article.
"She is a leader who fails to lead."
She does not appear "electable." But most of all, he wrote, Hillary has a Bill Clinton problem:
The New York senator is part of a failed Democratic party establishment -- led by her husband -- that enabled the George W. Bush Presidency and the Republican majorities, and all the havoc they have wreaked at home and abroad.
Moulitsas was right then and he is right today. The Clintons, who claim to have offered a "bridge to the 21st century" now offer a bridge back to the 20th century. In fact, the ’08 race is rapidly becoming a farce because of the Clintons. For anyone who cared to look, it was then and is now always about Bill as has became crystal clear these past few weeks.
Peggy Noonan writes that John McCain makes the mocking, red-faced Bill Clinton "look old." The former President race-baiting Obama, is an embarrassment to the country. He could very well have lost the whole absurd drama for his wife (and himself) this week.
The older Democrats are rapidly coming out of "Clinton Denial." This week The Nation and key writers for The New Republic have turned against the Clintons, using phrases like,
"maybe the conservatives were right about Bill all along."
So have virtually every important Democrat - Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and most important of all Caroline Kennedy.
This week brought the major turning point for the Democrats. Ted Kennedy has found his status as a senior statesman: He was right about the war on Iraq from the beginning and now the fourth post-war generation is beginning to look at him as the Gray Champion; the Senior Statesman who stood up to Billary and a corrupt political machine and sent them into marginalia. This week endorsements for Barack Obama came in from every major newspaper in the country except The New York Times which endorsed Hillary but was trumped by Caroline Kennedy endorsing Senator Obama in the Sunday edition.
For people of the age which heard of the death of JFK over the loudspeaker in high school, nothing goes deeper than Caroline Kennedy. It goes to the beginning. We saw her and her brother as children in the White House at the time of our first awakening; the First Family was our family and the first children were our American family. And time is a savage: when C Span and The Jim Lehrer Newshour cut between the thin elegance and grace of Caroline Kennedy on the stage at American University with Uncle Ted, it held a dreary contrast to the Senator from New York, prowling the stage alone, cornered, like a predator cougar, as aggressive as Big Nurse, a commissar or party aparatchik, threatening and demanding her entitlement, and in defiance of party rules, virtually trying to steal Florida.
The contours of the New Democrats are now coming clear through a glass darkly: Ted Kennedy, Barack Obama, Jim Webb and Kathleen Sebelius. A new party is awakening with a new generation. The old party is the Clintons and a couple of party-bound Kennedys, secondary family members whose names we can’t quite place.
The Democrats could finally push Elvis from the building. The question now: Is there time before Super Tuesday?