Saturday, November 25, 2017

Why so little young blood on the political bench?

Older people are filling the slots and plugging up the system.

First, a personal note.  I am 68.  I feel great.    I don't think of people in their 60s or 70s as old.  I think of myself as young.

Democrats have a bench problem which becomes a messaging problem.

Click here to operate chart. Who is older than you?
The people who are visible in presenting themselves as Democratic spokespeople in opposition to Trump are Hillary Clinton, still.  Plus Joe Biden.  Plus Elizabeth Warren.  In the House there is Minority leader Nancy Pelosi.  College classmate Chuck Schumer is the Majority Leader.  Bernie Sanders is a progressive spokesman.

They are all my age and older, 67-76.  

The problem is not that old people cannot do the jobs they hold.  They in fact do the jobs they hold and appear, to my eyes to be perfectly able to do it.  But my own eyes are skewed by my situation. 

Reality:  Only 5% of the US citizen are the age of Joe Biden (75) or older.  In 2020, it will be 4% if he runs at age 79.  Nancy Pelosi looks great and healthy at her current age of 77; only 4.5% of the population is her age and older.  Bernie Sanders is 76.

Boomer childhood
I do not consider myself age-ist.  This blog is not judging them to be too old to serve.  However, this blog does look carefully at unsaid, body-language messaging.  

The message being presented by the Democratic Party--via the very appearance and bearing and biography of its leading spokespeople--is that we are the Baby Boomer (and older) generation.  

mid 1980s

We understand the adjacent photos to communicate retro.

Yet people of my generation hold positions, do them well, and are eager to serve.  Why not?  We have the time, experience, reputation, and good health.  

Those are good answers.  But it leaves a messaging problem.   

 What about this photo of the man reading a newspaper?   

People my age see nothing particularly surprising about a man reading a newspaper.  In the eyes of most voters, that image is as retro as the image of the old phone

Most young people do not do what he is doing.  Retro.

Democrats have two problems.  One is that older people are plugging up the holes for the next generation.   The visible positions for spokespeople are the positions most likely to create national reputations. 

The second problem is messaging: people of my generation cannot avoid communicating that we are "old business."  .  It does not matter how great that brick phone is and whether it still works or not,  it still communicates "old".  If the man with the newspaper looks to you as a reader as "a normal guy", you are absolutely right.  But you (and I) are absolutely communicating that we are part of a generation that reads newspapers, not one that gets news via tweets, podcasts, Facebook, and phone news feeds.

Who are those young people?  Voters.

My past two blog posts have given utterly un-solicited advice to State Senator Alan DeBoer.   If he runs for re-election he will face a Democratic opponent.   

One is Kevin Stine, a 32 year old Medford City Counselor.  I see his active tweets and Facebook promotions.   Another in Jeff Golden, my age, a college classmate of mine for a time.

We see an interesting generational divide here.  Jeff Golden is visible on Public TV, with a show that started locally and has gone national, Immense Possibilities.  Jeff is a veteran of old cultural wars.  People attempting to recall him from office published a photo of him with long hair from the late 1960s; just look at that hippy!!  Jeff is authentic, in a time when voters value authenticity.  He communicates the authentic life path of a certain generation, a person born about 1950, who was part of a college protest scene at age 18, a back-to-the-country scene in his 20s, then life in a college town expressing liberal environmental politics.  I am comfortable with that biography; it is an archetype, almost a caricature, of a Baby Boomer liberal.  What is the problem?  I am no longer a "normal voter;" I am older.  So is Jeff.  

We are "retro" whether we want to be or not: a brick phone.

Golden, right, doing an interview.
Meanwhile, Kevin Stine gets criticism for being young, ambitious, and liberal.  I believe those are fair descriptions of Stine.  Stine is an active user of new media: twitter, Facebook.  He is making outreach in a very different way than is Golden.  

Alan DeBoer, like Jeff Golden, and like me: are all about age 68.  It is a good age.  

A few years ago I had a memorable conversation with a local business leader. The business leader said he was making changes at his own large firm because the older people need to get out of the way.

He said it is easy to stay too long, and if you do, you hurt the organization or system you spent a lifetime building.  The best people, the people with ambition and talent, get impatient if they see that all the opportunities ahead of them are plugged with people holding the roles above them.  They move to the competition or they change industries, but in any case you lose them.  Just because you can do the job doesn't mean you should do the job--not if you care about the organization or cause you represent.
Kevin Stine and family

I reflected on that, and it was part of why I decided to retire when I did.

All of the Democrats at the national level are in the prime of life.  Alan DeBoer and Jeff Golden and I are in the prime of life.  I am not saying Alan or Jeff should step aside, nor am I saying that Pelosi and Schumer and Warren and Sanders and Hillary should. They all have every right to fulfill their own goals and ambitions.  

There are consequences to plugging the holes for the next generation.  My successors at my Financial Advisory practice might not have been available had I waited 2 or 4 or 6 more years. I opened up a hole.

There are consequences to what Pelosi and Sanders and Schumer are doing.  They are plugging a hole.

[Note.  Regarding that business leader;  I am describing my own memory of a pleasant, brief conversation with Sid DeBoer, the older brother of Alan DeBoer.  Truth is, the source of the wisdom about opening up holes and enabling ambitious people space to advance, is unimportant.  Still, it is an interesting coincidence that the memory of advice comes from Alan DeBoer's brother]


  1. Great observation that reflects to some extent on the political parties. I wonder if they do the recruiting and grooming needed to promote younger candidates. It's easier to support an older one who may even have the resources to fund himself. A younger candidate for ORD2 recently quit presumably because of the strain on his family and his need to keep earning a living.

  2. Peter,
    Nancy is pasted together. Elizabeth looks normal. Sorry but age isn’t the issue. Noam Chomsky’s age doesn’t matter because he knows the issues and the American oppression of many many countries. The young need to kick out the oldsters and take over, but at present they are too busy on their Facebook pages to create a new party.
    They have checked out of the systems we hang onto. We are the dead end kids living in the cul de sac on the edge of the East River full of pollution and dead bodies. We offer them no future vision. Why should they listen to those who bring war after war global warming no pension jobs used up resources and giant college debt and health care bankruptcy?



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