To many voters, it may seem that Obama is proposing the kind of overgenerous welfare programs that were finally rejected in the backwash of the '80s, and in that same speech he concedes that such programs may have had bad effects. But that may be counterbalanced by Obama's appeal to black voters and to the millennial generation (born after 1980) who, like him, missed the '80s.
Clinton, still in contention though behind in delegates, experienced both the '60s and the '80s in full measure. Like her husband and his successor, she polarizes the electorate along cultural lines, and the cultural civil war of the baby boom generation seems likely to continue in a second Clinton administration. The moderate stands Bill Clinton took in the 1990s -- supporting NAFTA, for example, or signing the 1996 welfare bill -- are liabilities rather than assets for her, at least in the primaries.
No one candidate can embody the experiences of the whole electorate, of course, and many presidents have lived highly atypical lives. Dwight D. Eisenhower was a career military man, John F. Kennedy the son of a multimillionaire, Ronald Reagan a movie actor. But it's unusual to have two front-runners who have missed out on the formative experiences of so many Americans -- though perhaps not surprising in a political year that has already given us more surprises than most.