At a recent visit with my mom she invited some of her friends over for dinner. Her friends, like her, are in their 60s and lean left. The conversation often revolves around the fate of the world. It went something like this:
Carol: "When we were young, feminism meant women created their own destiny, beyond the sphere of men. There was fierce intensity and true sisterhood. I fasted for 70 days for the ERA and women died. Nowadays women turn themselves into playthings for a man. They practically damn their independence like a curse."
Jeanne: "We had another meeting about the Israeli activist woman whose films document the atrocities in Palestine. It was just us old Sixties stalwarts who were there. Not a single young person. It makes me afraid for the fate of the country."
I listened quietly to their frustrations and passion. But they made me mad. How dare they condemn my generation? But was I mad because they were right? Is my generation the cause of our country's meltdown? Are we apathetic? Or was I mad because they WEREN'T right and my generation simply had a different paradigm?
I filed through my friends:
Julie: builds networks of young people dedicated to finding sustainable solutions to virgin paper use for major corporations; Laura: consults with real estate projects to ensure compliance with green building codes; Jane: coordinates civil liberties symposiums and speaks out for increased education spending; Jill: trains fledgling independent business owners, especially women and people of color.
I concluded that at least MY friends weren't the downfall of the country, but the question sparked an insight into why this election has captivated the nation like few before it.
There are two paradigms going toe to toe in this election that speak to different generations but represent much more.
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The paradigm clash is 'Us vs. Them' defending its title against 'We Are Them.' McCain and even the Clintons came of age in a time in of battle -- there were clear enemies and sides. Communism in McCain's case, sexism and racism in the Clinton's case. They were bitter battles, and having the brash fortitude to stand up to and fight the other side was justifiably heroic. The rhetoric, strategy and tactics of these politicians understandably reflect this reality.
Obama, on the other hand, literally represents a union of the Us and the Them of the 1960s by virtue of his parents. He came of age when technological invention and communication were exploding and globalization defined the times. The world was getting smaller and interdependence was becoming more of a necessity than a choice.
Obama is dismissed by McCain in large part because he is not ready to do battle, he simply "doesn't understand" how to take on the terrorists, the rogue nations, the dangers of the 21st century.
The problem with McCain's argument is that the dangers of the 21st century -- destabilizing wars, teetering worldwide economies, a dramatically imperiled global environment -- were brought about by continuing to view the world through a 20th century lens that defined an Other. We simply don't have the time or resources for this mode of thinking anymore. War on others inevitably becomes war on ourselves.
Obama's selection of Joe Biden seems to point to his recognition of the need to bridge these paradigms during this time of transition. Biden came of age not long after McCain and also knows the value of stepping up to do battle. He presents as a solid anchor of the previous generation -- as the guy from Scranton who says "In my neighborhood, when you've got something to say to a guy, you look him in the eye and you say it to him." But he was chosen because he is notably adept at forging alliances among those of different opinions -- of recognizing where Us and Them overlap.
McCain, on the other hand, is running a campaign that seems to be taken verbatim from the Us vs Them script. From his tacit allowance of painting Obama as an 'enemy,' to his boasting about his unpopularity even within his own party, his whole strategy is colored by this worldview. A worldview that makes perfect sense if you experienced its ramifications in graphic first-hand detail as he did as a POW.
So I understand and respect the Us vs Them philosophy; Obama would not be here were it not for the thousands who took to the streets for civil rights, and I would not be able to vote for him were it not for feminists like Carol who fought for my rights. But like the song implies, the previous generation will always try to put the next generation down, just because we get around. What they don't realize is that they just can't see what we're doing with all of our 'getting around' because we're standing on their shoulders.