The Obama Generation

Let’s compare two quotes from significant presidential speeches in recent times:

“There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics:  As government expands, liberty contracts.”

Ronald Reagan, Farewell Address (1989)

“[P]reserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”

Barack Obama, Second Inaugural Address (2013)

This transition from one generation, led by President Reagan in the 1980s, to the current one, led by President Obama, is the subject of an article that I will write this summer called “The Obama Generation.”  Readers of this blog know that I believe in a descriptive theory of constitutional change that revolves around the idea that each generation remakes higher law and does so according to a similar pattern.  My first two books lay out that argument with respect to Jacksonian Democracy (1830s) and William Jennings Bryan (1890s). Since 2008, I have been itching to explain why President Obama’s election and subsequent developments, including the Affordable Care Act, the rise of the Tea Party, the debt ceiling fight in 2011, and the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the individual mandate, all fit within a broader “generational cycle.”  Now that my work on Bingham is done and we have enough evidence about the Obama Administration to make claims rather than just speculate, I will get to work on this, and explain some things along the way.

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8 Responses

  1. AndyK says:

    That is a difficult task, since pure “description” is impossible. It would be very difficult to separate the culture-following aspect of President Obama’s statements from its social engineering aspect.

    That is: it would be quite tempting (and facile) to say that “individual rights must be secured with collective action” represents the feelings of the new generation, rather than partly an attempt by the Obama administration to remold the hearts and minds of Americans to its own ends.

  2. Gerard Magliocca says:

    Oh, I agree with that. Leaders and followers shape each other.

  3. Joe says:

    Shouldn’t an analysis of the “Obama Generation” at least wait until his two terms are up? Jackson and Bryan is best seen in hindsight. But, don’t want you to be itchy!

  4. Gerard Magliocca says:

    It’s a fair point. I may decide to write the New Deal book instead. When history can inform current developments, though, why wait?

  5. Brett Bellmore says:

    Because if said analysis should wait until the two terms are up, you’re rushing it to form, not inform? Probably the worst temptation historians are subject to, it seems to have motivated most instances of historical fraud I’m aware of.

  6. Shag from Brookline says:

    Historians, credentialed and otherwise, have of late become celebrities on TV. I’m not going to name the usual suspects but many will know those I have in mind. In their appearances, they constantly, sometimes incessantly, pull up quotes or comments of historic American figures that were the subjects of their books, sometimes in context but sometimes not in context with the discussion they are participating in. In recent weeks I have observed many discussions featuring historians in conjunction with the inauguration and take joy in anticipating what each historian will say to bring in subjects that they have written on, generally without challenges from other historians on the panel, as the discussion develops into book promotions. To a great extent, these celebrity historians gloss over the warts and horns of their subjects. By means of celebrity historians, there is great public reverence for the Founders whose warts and horns – and sometimes there are many – are minimized or ignored.

    Fortunately, there are well credentialed non-celebrity historians whose writing may not be “bestsellers.” I’m not going to name them but various blogs provide links to SSRN articles by such historians, including legal historians.

    As to the Obama Generation, one description I have heard is that it is the “We Generation” rather than the “I Generation.” Now let’s hear from the Libertarians.

  7. Joe says:

    If “fraud” is your concern, it can be done now or later. It is not like people discussing the matter now, analysts etc., don’t slant things in that fashion.

    I read the OP’s two books, found them interesting, and look forward to his third. I also read a few of his articles. Just personally, I think they benefited from a chance to look back. OTOH, commenting as things occur can be helpful.

    But, if he wants to go in another direction, go at it.

  8. Shag from Brookline says:

    Apparently Libertarians have responded with a new website:

    that Stephen Colbert featured in his Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger feature on last night’s show.

    Now,we should hear from the Libertines!