For the past 15 years, our politics has been a civil war between two halves of the baby boom generation (generally taken to include those born between 1946 and 1964). We have had two presidents who were born in 1946 and graduated from high school in the class of 1964, which had the highest test scores in history.
Both those presidents happened to have personal characteristics that people on the opposite sides of the culture war absolutely loathe. We first saw the acrimony of the boomer civil war in the 1992 vice presidential debate between Dan Quayle (born 1947) and Al Gore (born 1948). We see it in the hate-filled reactions to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. And we are tired of it. Most voters would like to move on to something new.
It's not clear whether we will. Right now, the Democrats seem likelier than the Republicans to nominate the next president, and the candidate they seem likeliest to nominate is Hillary Rodham Clinton (born in 1948). She tends to polarize voters in much the same way her husband and his successor have. Her favorable-unfavorable in poll after poll runs around 49 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable. That means: a) she can win and b) she can lose. Obviously, many Democratic primary voters are troubled by the existence of this second possibility in a time when other factors are so positive for their party.
The leading alternative, Barack Obama, has presented himself from his first moment on the national stage, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, as a man who wants to move us beyond the boomer civil war by emphasizing what we all have in common. Born in 1961, he came in at the tail end of the baby boom generation, and in his book "The Audacity of Hope," portrays himself as having a very different generational identity.
His favorable-unfavorable ratio is much more positive than Clinton's, and he obviously has a greater upside potential. It's possible to conceive of him winning a larger percentage of the vote than either of the boomer presidents won in their re-election years (49 percent for Clinton, 51 percent for Bush). But he also has a greater downside potential, given his lack of executive experience and relative untestedness on the campaign trail.