Where have all the Baby Boomers gone? We, the children born to American parents when GIs returned from World War II, are still around in huge numbers, of course. But if you look at how many Boomers have been elected president, it appears that the influence of the Baby Boom generation may have waned already.
The Boomers’ impact on American politics has been profound, starting with the young Freedom Riders who fought segregation in the South, followed by the anti-war movement of the late 1960s that changed the face of American politics as well as the nature of college education.
For better or worse, the current reliance on party presidential primaries, instead of the decisions of political hacks, is an outgrowth of the involvement of young people in the 1968 campaigns of Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy.
Given that outsized effect on American politics, it’s surprising that Boomers have had such a small influence on the presidency. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both born in 1946, are the only certifiable members of the Baby Boom generation to reach that office.
Some have said President Barack Obama is a Baby Boomer, but that depends on where you place the cutoff for the end of the Boom. According to some definitions, it ended in 1960, before Obama was born.
We’ve seen a similar pattern in the New Orleans mayor’s office: Two Boomers, Marc Morial (born in 1958) and Ray Nagin (1956), followed by an outer-band Boomer, Mitch Landrieu (1960).
We don’t know yet if 2016 will put another Boomer in the White House. Two of the assumed frontrunners certainly qualify: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (1947) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (1953). Retired Gen. David Petraeus (1952) is another boomer who could attain the — oh wait, never mind.
Other presidential possibilities, such as our own Gov. Bobby Jindal (1971) and Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (1970), would place a later generation in the Oval Office.
Other generations born since the Civil War have had a much longer hold on the top office. Six presidents were born in the last third of the 19th century: Warren Harding (1865), Calvin Coolidge (1872), Herbert Hoover (1874), Franklin Roosevelt (1882), Harry Truman (1884) and Dwight Eisenhower (1890).
Eisenhower’s election in 1952 ushered in another generational wave, men who lived through and served in World War II. Eight presidents — Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush — had some form of military service during World War II. Some may have played only small roles during the war, but Eisenhower, Kennedy and Bush greatly distinguished themselves while serving.
Kennedy, who died 49 years ago today, was another watershed figure. When he referred in his famous inaugural address to a torch being passed to a new generation, he specifically meant Americans “born in this century,” that is, the 20th century. He was the first 20th-century man to become president, and no one born in the 19th century ever held that office again.
We’ll have to wait until 2016 to see if the Boomers also are passing the torch. Meanwhile, if Vice President Joe Biden ascends to the presidency, he will be in a class by himself. Born in 1942, he predates the Baby Boom generation and would have the distinction of being the only president who was born during, not before or after, World War II.
Dennis Persica is a New Orleans-area journalist. In his weekly column he shares his thoughts and observations about people, places and issues in the New Orleans area. Persica’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.