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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dole Brings Generation Gap to Fore

WASHINGTON -- There they go again.


The arguments between America's baby boomers and their parents that rang across kitchen tables through the 1960s and 1970s have resurfaced in the presidential race between Bill Clinton, the first baby boomer in the Oval Office, and Bob Dole, a man old enough to be the president's father.


In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last week, Dole drew a generational line in the sand, criticizing the "corps of the elite" in the Clinton White House, and by extension, the roughly 76-million-member baby boom generation itself for a breakdown in American values over the past 30 years.


Dole's unsparing indictment, and his celebration of the "old values" he learned in a sepia America, turned on its head the lines of generational argument that have marked recent U.S. politics.


Since the early 1980s, the nation has seen a succession of young candidates -- though notably not Clinton himself -- argue that the time had arrived for the baby boomers -- those born between 1946 and 1964 -- to assume national leadership. Dole, in effect, is now arguing that his GI Generation of World War II veterans -- the generation that dominated the White House for the 40 years before Clinton's election -- possesses a set of values and experiences better suited to lead America into the next century.


Almost universally, Democrats argue that Dole's bold generational contrast was a political mistake because it called attention to his own age and left the impression he was trying to recapture a vanished past. "It says to people that he is looking backward, not forward," says Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster.


But many conservatives believe that Dole's astringent critique of modern U.S. society will strike a resonant chord, even among baby boomers themselves who share the suspicion that their parents' generation built a more morally stable world.


"I think he is giving public voice to something that even baby boomers know about," says Pete Wehner, policy director at the conservative think tank Empower America. "We all know we're part of a self-indulgent generation and I think people know that Dole is from a generation that had less and whined less and really did have some notion of duty and honor and country. And I think people in our generation miss that."


Ironically, the assault against the values of the "elite" baby boomers -- a group, Dole memorably asserted his speech, "never grew up, never did anything real, never sacrificed, never suffered and never learned" -- comes even as the inexorable current of middle-aged responsibilities carry the entire generation toward more moderate views on social and political issues.


But even without Dole's sharp words at the convention, a generational comparison between Clinton and Dole was inevitable. If Americans replace Clinton with Dole, they would be reaching back across generational lines to an extent unmatched in American history: Dole is 23 years Clinton's senior.





Only two presidents (Ronald Reagan in 1980 and James Buchanan in 1856) have been as much as 13 years older than the president they succeeded;