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A correction about national politics, 18 years in the making

Members of four generations, ages 37 to 77, are currently seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. The list includes two from a generation whose political obituary I wrote in this newspaper 18 years ago.

In 2001, just before the inauguration of Baby Boomer George W. Bush, I wrote that the generation that preceded the Boomers, the Silent Generation, was “one step closer to what could be its destiny, failing to produce even one president and being the only generation able to claim that distinction.” I took this rather personally, because the Silent Generation, also known as the Depression Babies, happens to be mine.

It turns out I was a bit premature in ending the generation’s presidential aspirations.  The Silent Generation is still trying — albeit failing. Contrary to what I wrote here on Jan. 15, 2001, the Silent Generation can’t seem to stop running for president, despite the great age of its membership and its singular lack of success. They resumed running in 2008, when a still vigorous Silent, 72-year-old John McCain, sought to succeed the Republican who defeated him in 2000. 

But McCain would lose to another Boomer, Barack Obama.  This made the war hero his generation’s third and surely last presidential candidate, after the long forgotten Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. I had written off the other  “Silent Generation Democrats” in 2001: “unless you count presidential has-beens or never-weres like Joseph Biden, 58, or Jesse Jackson, 59.” I was right about Jackson — just saying.

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But all that conventional wisdom became inoperative in the 2016 election. To be sure, both parties nominated Boomers, but Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were very ancient Boomers, having been born in 1946, thereby missing the opportunity to win one presidency for the Silents by just a year.

This is as good a time as any  to point out that the Boomers are also sometimes known as the Me Generation for having been overly indulged as children and exhibiting a childish self centeredness as they matured — or didn’t.  As a Silent, but speaking only for myself, I must say that neither party could have nominated a more representative Me Generation type than Donald and, to a slightly lesser extent, Hillary.

Conversely, the Silent Generation was so designated because its members grew up when children were expected to be seen and not heard. As young adults, the Silents were said to have been known for working hard, keeping quiet and avoiding controversies.  This is, of course, not true of every last one of us.

And so, come 2020, we will have one of the world’s oldest Baby Boomers, Donald J. Trump, seeking a second term at the age of 74, which would be cause for some talk — like what shape he will be in when his second term ends at 78 — unless, of course, his opponent turns out to be Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, our Silent Generation representatives.

Biden will be 77 and Sanders, a riper 78, on Election Day, 2020, leaving questions about the shape Trump will be in at the age of 78 four years from now rather moot. I can, however, say with some confidence and experience that all three will enjoy afternoon naps at 78 or beyond. This may be inconvenient for a president unless he calls the snooze “executive time.”

 

Having learned nothing from past predictions on this subject, I think the current prominence of Biden and Sanders is due mostly to name recognition. I would give Biden little chance and Sanders no chance of winning the nomination. 

As The New York Times has pointed out, “Historically, Democratic nominees and presidents have been younger than their Republican counterparts,” though not so young as the 37-year-old Pete Buttigieg of the Millennial Generation.

Among the Boomers getting attention at the moment, Elizabeth Warren will be 70 on Election Day, while Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris will be a decade younger at 59. Generation X’s possibilities include 49-year-old Beto O’Rourke and 51-year-old Cory Booker.

And, given my record, there’s a good chance I didn’t even mention the Democrat who will face Donald Trump next year.

 

Simsbury, Conn., resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.