Obama, simply by virtue of when he was born, is free of this defensiveness. Strictly speaking, he is at the tail end of the Boomer generation. But he is not of it.
From Atlantic Unbound:
Audio: Barack Obama Discusses the Baby Boomer Generation
Listen to an excerpt from Obama’s interview with Andrew Sullivan
“Partly because my mother, you know, was smack-dab in the middle of the Baby Boom generation,” he told me. “She was only 18 when she had me. So when I think of Baby Boomers, I think of my mother’s generation. And you know, I was too young for the formative period of the ’60s—civil rights, sexual revolution, Vietnam War. Those all sort of passed me by.”
Obama’s mother was, in fact, born only five years earlier than Hillary Clinton. He did not politically come of age during the Vietnam era, and he is simply less afraid of the right wing than Clinton is, because he has emerged on the national stage during a period of conservative decadence and decline. And so, for example, he felt much freer than Clinton to say he was prepared to meet and hold talks with hostile world leaders in his first year in office. He has proposed sweeping middle-class tax cuts and opposed drastic reforms of Social Security, without being tarred as a fiscally reckless liberal. (Of course, such accusations are hard to make after the fiscal performance of today’s “conservatives.”) Even his more conservative positions—like his openness to bombing Pakistan, or his support for merit pay for public-school teachers—do not appear to emerge from a desire or need to credentialize himself with the right. He is among the first Democrats in a generation not to be afraid or ashamed of what they actually believe, which also gives them more freedom to move pragmatically to the right, if necessary. He does not smell, as Clinton does, of political fear.
There are few areas where this Democratic fear is more intense than religion. The crude exploitation of sectarian loyalty and religious zeal by Bush and Rove succeeded in deepening the culture war, to Republican advantage. Again, this played into the divide of the Boomer years—between God-fearing Americans and the peacenik atheist hippies of lore. The Democrats have responded by pretending to a public religiosity that still seems strained. Listening to Hillary Clinton detail her prayer life in public, as she did last spring to a packed house at George Washington University, was at once poignant and repellent. Poignant because her faith may well be genuine; repellent because its Methodist genuineness demands that she not profess it so tackily. But she did. The polls told her to.
Obama, in contrast, opened his soul up in public long before any focus group demanded it. His first book, Dreams From My Father, is a candid, haunting, and supple piece of writing. It was not concocted to solve a political problem (his second, hackneyed book, The Audacity of Hope, filled that niche). It was a genuine display of internal doubt and conflict and sadness. And it reveals Obama as someone whose “complex fate,” to use Ralph Ellison’s term, is to be both believer and doubter, in a world where such complexity is as beleaguered as it is necessary.