Paul Ryan’s election as Speaker of the House is a major moment in American history for one surprising reason. Ryan who is a Gen Xer represents the passing of the baton from the clinched fists of idealistic Baby Boomers (1943-1960) to the eager-and-willing hands of pragmatic Generation X (1961-1981). Boomers, by their overwhelming numbers, have controlled the values, attitudes, and lifestyles of America since shortly after World War II. The times, they are a-changin’!
Each one of America’s six living generations has been shaped by the history of its formative years. These historic events create unique characteristics which in turn form a generation’s values, attitudes, and lifestyles. It’s not that everyone in a generation is alike, but people whose formative years were during the Great Depression tend to be thrifty. Those whose formative years were during the Viet Nam and Nixon years tend to question authority. So it is with each generation. Generational characteristics remain with members of a generation throughout their lives, only to be tempered by age and current events.
Gen Xers are different. They are the 9/11 firefighters, police, and emergency personnel. They are the heroic young men who brought down the plane in Pennsylvania to keep terrorists from doing unknown harm. They are the ones who make tough decisions. They are a modern-day version of Harry Truman’s generation.
Here are some unexpected Generation X characteristics.
Xer Ryan’s record reflects his philosophy of a practical approach to immigration. He voted against the “Dream Act”, but supported proposals that legalize immigrant farm workers and allow undocumented students to get in-state tuition benefits.
He set the tone in a hard-edged fashion. Xer Ryan insisted on certain conditions to be a basic part of the job of Speaker of the House, such as support from three major GOP caucuses, and raising the number of votes needed from members to oust a sitting Speaker.
At first glance, Ryan’s life seems atypical. His religious upbringing and strong family ties are at odds with many Xers. At 16, he discovered his 55-year-old father dead from a heart attack. He helped care for a grandmother with Alzheimer’s while his mother commuted to college. Not exactly a traditional childhood. Today, one of the conditions set by Ryan regarding the job of Speaker is that he not spend his week-ends raising money for the party. This 45-year-old married father of three children plans to spend his time with family, not fundraising.
Ryan’s leadership style is as much generational as it is political. He is a forerunner of his generation’s way of doing things, both parties included. The possibilities are fascinating. Things will change and things might really get done.