It's a generational thing. That was the theme of Barack Obama's speech last Tuesday, in which he both failed to renounce and at the same time separated himself from the man he has described as his spiritual mentor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Obama said that Wright's bellowing, "God damn America," was just a response to the evil treatment of America's blacks all those years ago by an old man (66) who does not realize, as Obama does and as the success of Obama's candidacy shows, that America is not static but has been perfecting itself.
Obama's even tone and his supple rhetoric was a soothing contrast to Wright's rants, and his calls on blacks to urge their children to read were a concession to the majority of Americans who believe that black Americans' problems are not all the fault, as Wright suggests, of vicious white people.
It was an artful performance and a politically sensitive one. For Obama's candidacy is a generational phenomenon. His greatest support comes from black voters and from voters under 30, the Millennial generation born after 1980, first named by William Strauss and Neal Howe.
The exit polls in Democratic primaries this year have shown the widest generational split that I can remember in either primaries or general elections. Upward of two-thirds of voters 65 and over have been supporting Hillary Clinton; even higher percentages of voters under 30 have been backing Obama. Evidence suggests that Obama has been attracting many new young voters -- a source of strength for his party if he is nominated -- and is even getting them to click on the campaign's emails and send in money.
The Wright sermons have probably not been a problem for Obama with black voters -- they have heard this kind of thing before. And while it may be off-putting, it will not prompt them to reconsider their votes or diminish their enthusiasm.
Millennials are another matter. In a brilliantly well-timed new book, "Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics," Democratic Party veteran Morley Winograd and media researcher Michael Hais explain how this generation, with the highest percentages of blacks, Latinos and Asians in American history, doesn't care much for racial divisions and relies for news and advice on networks of friends and peers.
A newspaper story on Obama's pastor is not going to affect their view of him -- they don't read newspapers except when a friend emails a link to a newspaper Website. A YouTube video is another thing. The Wright videos -- angry when Obama is soothing, racially divisive when Obama is inclusive, anti-American when Obama proclaims a new generation's version of patriotism -- are something else.
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