Sunday, October 12, 2008

Changing of the Guard

One of the first blogs I read on Sunday morning, is Thomas Barnett's column. This weeks topic, The end of the boomer presidency looks to the future and the next generation of leaders we will entrust to lead our nation.
Tom begins:

Whatever this national election's outcome, one thing seems clear: it marks the end of the boomers' presidential reign. As if applying a devastating coda to this era's highly leveraged lifestyle, our current financial crisis indicates that we have reached the end of that political generation's dysfunctional hyper-partisanship and lack of fiscal discipline.
Nothing displays our collective desire to move beyond the boomers more than the fact that the two most exciting national candidates fielded in this election are -- in effect --post-boomers: Barack Obama and Sarah Palin. Even the Republicans' turn toward John McCain represents an implicit rebuke of the boomers' political generation in that he promises a pre-boomer return to adult supervision in Washington.

The dullard of the four? That would be the quintessential boomer Joe Biden.

This column led me to reflect on a book written almost 20 years ago by William Strauss and Neil Howe, Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069. In their book they divide American history into seasonal cycles of history. These seasons are further divided into generations by birth year and are classified as one of four types of generations or historical periods. Since the 15th century, the only exception to the "four-season" cycle was the our Civil War, when the generation type jumped from Reactive to Adaptive with no Civic generation.
Strauss and Howe had warned in their book about electing Idealist "Boomers" to lead the nation before their elder years. I decided to take a little trip back in history and in an unscientific glance test their theory.

Using a source from American Generations - Cycles in U.S. History , found at I will examine the leadership of generations from the Revolution to today.

Awakening Generation - Prophet, Idealist Type (1701-1723)
The only noted near leaders of this generation were Benjamin Franklin, and Samuel Adams, advisers to those who actually led.

Liberty Generation - Nomad, Reactive Type (1724-1741)George Washington, John Adams.

Republican Generation - Hero, Civic Type (1742-1766) Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe,

Era of Good Feeling - 1st Turning, High (1788-1821)
Transcendental Generation - Prophet, Idealist Type (1792-1821) Abraham Lincoln, James Polk, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson.

Transcendental Awakening Era - 2nd Turning, Awakening (1822-1837)

Era of Slavery Expansion - 3rd Turning, Unraveling (1838-1859)
missing generation - Hero, Civic Type

Civil War Era - 4th Turning, Crisis (1860-1865)
Progressive Generation - Artist, Adaptive
Type (1843-1859)Theodore Roosevelt, William McKinley, William Taft, and Woodrow Wilson.

The Gilded Age - 1st Turning, High (1866-1885)
Missionary Generation - Prophet, Idealist Type (1860-1882)Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Warren Harding , Calvin Coolidge , Herbert Hoover.

Missionary Awakening Era - 2nd Turning, Awakening (1886-1909)
Lost Generation - Nomad, Reactive Type (1883-1900)Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman,

World War I / Prohibition Era - 3rd Turning, Unraveling (1910-1929)
G.I. Generation - Hero, Civic Type (1901-1924)John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush Sr.

Depression / World War II Era - 4th Turning, Crisis (1930-1944)
Silent Generation - Artist, Adaptive Type (1925-1942) As yet only also-rans, populate this group Walter Mondale, Robert F. Kennedy, Edward M. Kennedy and the question mark? John McCain.

Era of Superpower America - 1st Turning, High (1945-1965)
Boom Generation - Prophet, Idealist Type (1943-1960),William Clinton, George W. Bush.

Boom Awakening Era - 2nd Turning, Awakening (1966-1980)
Thirteenth Generation (Generation X) - Nomad, Reactive Type (1961-1981) Barack Obama and Sarah Palin. One of these two, will be either President or the Vice President.

As we examine the list above, a couple of things stand out. The only generation that seems to produce any abundance of great leaders is the Civic generations. The others, usually only have one or two, standouts among many whose names are know only to historians. The two great leaders that were produced by the Idealistic generations, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt came to power during times of crisis and in Roosevelt's case came to his greatest hour in his elder years. Howe and Strauss had expressed concern that Idealist coming to power during their middle years would have a difficult time overcoming a crisis, IE, George W Bush. They also noted that the military leaders during a crisis were most successful when they came from a reactive generation. Washington, U.S. Grant and Eisenhower, all of our current military leaders are Boomers, soon to be replaced by up and coming Reactive X-Geners.

The above observations are only brain food for thinking about the past and a hint at what the future may produce.

1 comment:

Adam Elkus said...

I tend to be suspicious of taxonomical approaches, but this is very interesting and deserves serious thought.