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Michael Ames Headshot

Obama and the Generation Conversation

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The current Obama point is this: the national political conversation is stale. It's about time we started a new one.

Entertaining and profitable as it may for opposing limbs of the body public to endlessly demonize George Bush or liberals, wouldn't it be refreshing to just change the subject?

That is, unless you spend the majority of your time in the spit-shined Fox News studios or hanging around the clammy recesses of MoveOn.org all-nighters. If you are so entrenched, you may not even be able to conceive of turning the page. Today's dialogue is a Groundhog Day family dinner nightmare: two sides pitted against each other night after night, forever lobbing the same rhetorical grenades about the same issues for the rest of eternity.

The routine is bad for America. Energy that could be projected onto a fractious world is instead looped into a circular firing squad, knocking out the shining light on the hill. Jon Stewart spoke to this point in October 2004 as a disgruntled guest on CNN's Crossfire. Like the kid trying to stave off his parent's divorce, Stewart literally pleaded with Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala to stop fighting on national television. Four months later, and after 23 years, Crossfire was off the air.

Stewart made a strong case against the toxic theater of political vitriol. But even with Crossfire gone, the politics of anger -- of Sean Hannity and Bill Maher, of Ann Coulter and Michael Moore -- carries on. AM radio is pitched with savage voices, cable news is rife with caustic personalities and still the trend grows, the sponsors sign on and the fight goes another round.

Exhausting, isn't it?

If only we could do something.

Andrew Sullivan has an idea. In his pivotal Atlantic Monthly essay, "Goodbye to All That," the mixed-bag libertarian offers a clear alternative to this endless muck: President Barack Obama.

Obama can, Sullivan says, "take America -- finally --p ast the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us." He alone among the candidates could end the "non-violent civil war that has crippled America at the very time the world needs it most."

Hillary Rodham Clinton, on the other hand...to the right, she is the anti-Christ, evil incarnate. Who better than president-elect Hillary Clinton to motivate even apathetic conservatives to the voting booths a year from now? For Democrats, she is the nuclear option, certain either to win or destroy everything.

Obama is a different story entirely. Because of his age (of no categorical generation), his background (international), his demeanor (calm consensus-building leadership), and his face (not your father's president), he is neither this nor that, us or them. He is emblematic of democratic ideals like pluralism and inclusion. In short, the best America has to offer.

This might be why conservatives don't like talking about Obama. And why Hillary hopes that he just goes away. For Rush Limbaugh, Hillary comes wrapped in a red bow. She is, in Obama's words, the "fight they are comfortable having." Once Hillary is nominated, the kryptonite, safely stored since '94, comes down off the shelf. But for him, there is no ready ammunition. (How many times can they make fun of his name?) Obama's voice, and certainly not hers, is the steady tone to muffle the shrill noise that surrounds us.

But Obama's greatest power, as foreign-policy realists are pointing out, is not on any one side of the culture wars between the Clintons and the Bushes, but in the far more real and crucial war against Islamist terror.

Sullivan says it like this: "The war of today matters enormously. The war of the last generation? Not so much. If you are an American who yearns to finally get beyond the symbolic battles of the Boomer generation and face today's actual problems, Obama may be your man."