“Wesley Clark’s star on the rise for vice president,” said the headlines today and frankly I couldn’t be happier. I can’t imagine a choice that would more irretrievably doom the ticket.
Clark has already proved to be an inept campaigner, a bit of a flake, a bit of an egotist, and a candidate with real constituency except a few military families in Oklahoma. He was a two-week wonder, Admiral Stockdale with a little more coherence. Even Howard Dean would probably bring more votes.
But Kerry seems serious about Clark and so the real question arises — what on earth is going on in this guy’s head? Is he completely tone-deaf? Does he have any idea what’s going on in this country? Does he really think that a little display of uniform will carry the day for the Democrats?
The answer comes to me right away. John Kerry, even more than Bill Clinton, is a quintessential representative of the Baby Boom generation. The Clintons were social climbers who took advantage of the social upheavals of the era to scam their way to the top. They were Bonnie and Clyde with Yale degrees. But John Kerry is something different. With his aristocratic self-regard, he not only embodies the Baby Boomers but manifests the core of their generational belief — that Baby Boomers embody the country if not history itself.
At a yard sale the other day I found a 1968 book called The Gap. Behind the ragged cover was an exchange between a Columbia University student and his uncle, an advertising executive, who lived together for a year and kept diaries about their efforts to “understand” each across the Generation Gap.
The student’s views were turgidly familiar: “A businessman will shun individual responsibility for his community’s corporate silence, yet he will appropriate the individual privileges gained through corporate power,” etc. etc.
But the uncle was the big surprise: “Can it be that Richie’s generation invented sex, music, art, education, peace, understanding, and the dignity of man — all in a few short years?”
Wow, I thought. Even back then, people saw us for what we were! Baby Boomers were always full of themselves beyond measure.
I’m on the leading edge of the boomer generation myself and always hated it. Back in the 1970s, when articles began appearing, “The Boomers Discover their 30s!” I thought, “Ye Christ, is this going to stay with us all our lives? Are we going to be perpetually dumbfounded that the same things that happened to our parents and countless other generations are also happening to us?” I renounced my membership in the BB generation right there and haven’t regretted it since. When the articles start appearing, “The Boomers Discover Death!” I won’t be the least bit surprised. In fact, I think I’ve seen a few already.
Yet this is why John Kerry thinks he can run for President on his autobiography. Half the voters in the country now have no personal recollection of Vietnam, yet to Kerry it is still history’s defining moment. What you did during the war is all that counts. Kerry volunteered — to his everlasting credit. Then he came back and denounced the war and his fellow soldiers — which maybe wasn’t so great. Now he’s running as a peace-loving, anti-war, Vietnam combat veteran — why? Because Iraq is Vietnam? No, because to Baby Boomers history has always begun and ended with themselves.
Kerry should be reaching out to the country, measuring people’s concerns, developing a coherent policy on terrorism. Instead, he has immersed himself in autobiography. Now he’s about to choose a lead-footed vice president whose only qualification is that he reinforces the things Kerry finds most admirable in himself.
By September, I have the feeling, people are really going to be sick of this guy.