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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Age Of Obama And Obama's Age

Imagine if Senator John McCain had won the American Presidency? Every once in a while that thought crosses this blogger's mind, waking us in a cold sweat and twisted bedsheets. Would a President John Sidney McCain have been nearly as politically nimble as our present President, juggling multiple policy balls in the air simultaneously, without missing a beat?

Probably not.

The formidable energies displayed daily by President Barack Obama -- in his getting a stimulus package through Congress, in successful tours of Europe and the Latin American summit and in today's call for taking advantage of aligned stars for health care reform -- all make the case that a younger, vital President might be the way to go for these United States of America going forward. Not since FDR's historic hundred days -- as Newsweek's Jonathan Alter reminds us from a hundred media platforms -- has a President displayed such tremendous vigor in pursuing his policy agendas. And President Obama's ability to handle all that and still make quality time for his family and friends is, quite frankly, amazing.

At 47, Barack Obama is one of the youngest Presidents. His "Change" mandate played brilliantly on his youth, linking it to America's profound distaste with the previous administration's handling of virtually everything from Katrina to the War on Terror to, at the bitter end, the very economy itself. President Obama's youth became a net-plus in the 2008 campaign, even in places like ultra-conservative Tennessee, where an astonishing 45% of white voters under 30 voted Obama.

Curiously, another former young President -- Bill Clinton -- appealed during the primaries for older voters against the young. But the devastating combination of a youthful mandate for generational change and an even-temper in a moment of historical exigency ultimately carried the day. The rest, as they say, is history.

Obama's even-temper was most evident in the Presidential debates. Aside from accepting public funding and the choice of Governor Palin as counter programming to Obama's sage choice of Biden -- which eliminated McCain's advantage of age and thus perceived political wisdom -- the singlemost boneheaded maneuver of the GOP campaign was the Republican nominees erratic performance during the debates. "That one," Arizona's Senator hissed at one point, recalling, vaguely, Hillary's "celestial choirs" routine only with an extra dash of very angry old man.

We have always been a youth-oriented culture in everything from our pop-stars to that much wooed, highly pursued 18-to-49-year-old demographic group. Age comes up often these days. When will Obama go completely gray? What will happen to the disappearing jobs of the blue-collar worker in his or her 50s? Will the rising green collar sector absorb graduating college kids looking for employment? Is there way of life a thing of the past? Are young voters migrating away from lucrative careers like finance for more edifying careers in education and health services? How young -- not old -- will President Obama's Supreme Court pick be?

Issues of age hang over President Obama like a golden nimbus. If he succeeds it could skew the average age of American Presidents a decade younger for a generation. But if his idealistic economic plan fails, it is not inconceivable that that golden nimbus of boyish charm corrodes.

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