Last week, Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin convened a focus group of Iowa Democrats to discuss Hillary Rodham Clinton. They were Ready for Hillary. Indeed, they were enthusiastic about the prospect. But when Halperin asked them to name an accomplishment of Hillary as secretary of state, they couldn’t come up with one. Nor, for that matter, could they have named an accomplishment of Hillary as senator. Nor as first lady. Nor as Arkansan.
This is not evidence of the deficiencies of the Iowa school system. No group of Americans in any state could honestly name any significant accomplishment of the woman who is the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination for president, and who is ahead in most general election polls as well.
Not that this is necessarily a problem for the Hillary candidacy. None of the three most recent presidents had much to show for himself by way of accomplishments, personal or professional or political, when he ran for office. Each could in fact be said to have had more in the way of disqualifications than qualifications for office. Yet Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all became president.
Once is happenstance. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is a trend. Perhaps lack of accomplishment is a feature, not a bug, for baby boomer presidents.
After all, in the world of the baby boomers, what is an accomplishment? Accomplishments are what their parents, conventionally patriotic and earnestly bourgeois, labored and strove for. Baby boomers, by contrast, aspire rather than labor, and seek rather than strive. Baby boomers aspire to the appropriate attitude and affect, and seek the suitable sense and sensibility.
Accomplishments are old school. Truman, Ike, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush—all had accomplished things, often difficult things, in their personal and public lives before they ran for president. We dare say all (even Carter) had done more than any of their boomer successors. That all served in the military is only a small part—though a telling part—of the story. The boomer presidents, of course, didn’t serve, or barely served. As the late Dean Barnett wrote in these pages, “History called the baby boomers. They didn’t answer the phone.”
The boomer presidents were indulged as young men. They then indulged themselves with the fancy that they should be president. The voters indulged them, too, passing over the question of their qualifications—and, indeed, excusing several manifest disqualifications.
So Hillary Clinton would fit right in. She would be a worthy successor to the boomer presidents who have stood at the pinnacle of American politics for almost a quarter century. Hillary’s would be the echt-boomer presidency. She would be our second affirmative action boomer president (after Obama), our second boomer legacy president (after Bush), and our second reflexively dishonest boomer president (after her husband).
It may be that every generation gets the presidents it deserves. But enough already. Surely it’s time—to use a phrase associated with the Clintons—to move on.
But some other candidate will have to make the case for why we need to move on, and where we should be moving to. An unimaginative Republican candidate running an orthodox GOP campaign could well lead voters to accede to our fourth baby boomer president. Three baby boomer presidencies are enough.