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A baby boomer’s presidential lament

Feb 22, 2016

Well, it now seems that the race for the Republican nomination, which once had more candidates than a baseball team, is down to three real contenders.

The Democrats are down to two, and something suddenly occurred to me over the weekend. I’m a baby boomer, born in the 1950s.

That was a proud decade. Besides all the millions and millions of us, it gave America rock and roll, tail fins, and color TV. Growing up, we were going to change the world and make it a better place when one of us got to be president.

Except now it seems that none of us may ever get the chance. It may well be that no child born in the 1950s will ever become president of the United States. Consider this:

The two remaining Democratic candidates, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, were born in the 1940s. So was Donald Trump. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, the only others with a realistic shot at the Republican nomination, were born in the 1970s, which still boggles my mind.

It was bad enough that President Obama was born in 1961. Ohio Governor John Kasich was born in 1953, and he is still hanging in there. But he got a bare seven percent of the vote in South Carolina. Fewer votes, that is, than Jeb Bush, who then quit. At this point, vice-president seems a far more reasonable goal for Kasich. Ben Carson is no longer a real factor.

So suppose one of the five front-runners does win. The last three presidents served their full two terms. Assuming the next one does too, the children of my decade will be somewhere between 66 and 75 when the next president leaves office.

Theoretically one of us could still be elected in 2024. But that’s not very likely; new stars keep emerging, and old ones get eclipsed. If that happens, the 1950s will join the 1930s as the only two decades since 1820 that never produced a president.

I can understand why not the 30s: Fewer babies were born because of The Great Depression. And two 30s babies did become major party nominees, Mike Dukakis and John McCain, both of whom lost badly. The nearly 40 million of us born in the 1950s have yet to produce even one vice presidential nominee.

I’m not quite sure why.

It could be that the slightly older boomers, like Clinton and Trump, got out there first and won’t leave, which is what has been happening all across America.

It could be because we were the most indulged generation in history, spoiled by parents trying to compensate for their own deprivations in the Great Depression and World War II.

And frankly, I indeed can’t recall any politicians my age who were as relentlessly driven, say, as are the Clintons. Our parents probably would have said our powers of concentration and drive were weakened by all that Beatles music. Or that we lost our faith in politics because of Watergate or Vietnam. There may something to all that.

Except that when you consider what someone running for president has to go through, it might just be that a lot of us looked at it – and decided that we are just a little bit too sane.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.