So I went to see the first true member of my Generation X on a national presidential ticket.
Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan and I are the same age. He graduated from high school in 1988. I was in the class of ’89. This is new territory for our generation. He seems invigorated. I feel old.
I wondered whether Ryan’s Gen X-itude would make his rally in Cedar Rapids Tuesday any different. Would Winona Ryder, or maybe Ross and Rachel, warm up the crowd? Would Ryan shuffle into Johnson Hall on the Kirkwood campus in a trench coat, hoisting a boombox over his head, blasting “In Your Eyes,” like Lloyd Dobler in “Say Anything?” Maybe a moment of silence for Kurt Cobain?
But, nevermind, it was pretty much like most other rallies. The weekday GOP crowd skewed somewhat older than Gen X. But I did find some folks in, or at least near, my generation. Most said it’s nice to see a younger candidate on the big stage. But they’re much more interested in his policy positions.
“To find someone you can agree with on the issues, to me, is more important,” said Brad Lewis, a Hiawatha farmer, who, at 30, is on the back edge of X, depending on where you slice it. “Smaller government, in general, is what I believe in.”
“I think that he is all smoke and mirrors, as far as I’m concerned,” said Jasmine Almoayed of Fairfax, a Democrat and “on the cusp” near-X’er born in ‘83. “If you actually look at the fact checker stuff from his speech at the RNC, half of it was crap.”
But, trust me, Generation X knows “crap.”
We’ve been voting our whole political lives for presidential tickets that talked a great game but served up disillusioning disappointments. We’ve read lips and cringed at West Wing sexcapades and shook our heads at faulty WMD intelligence. Last time, we voted for a charming, hopeful guy who claimed he could tame the pitbulls of our tribal politics into cuddly comity. Turns out he should have been a lot more “Wolverines!” and a lot less Beanie Baby.
Lots of big promises, but inevitably, in the end, reality bites. Some reality, up front, would be nice.
And that’s what made Ryan’s rally speech disappointing. The famed Wisconsin wonk, R-Specific, went all aimless slacker when it came to explaining his ticket’s plans. He bashed the president plenty, but spent precious little time explaining how his team would do any better. He ticked off a “five-point plan” that included formless items such as “domestic energy, let’s use it,” more job training and trade. Team R&R is going to slice our debt and cut our taxes, How, exactly? Ryan’s ideas for Medicare, of keen interest to our generation, have vanished from view.
Maybe, in his eyes, this is a meaty message. To me, he’s another national politician willing to say anything to win.