Nevertheless, some prophets of the New Age saw all the turmoil as both hopeful and helpful. In 1970, a professor I knew casually at Yale wrote a massive bestseller called The Greening of America, proclaiming “a great change” among “the bright, sensitive children of the affluent middle class.” Specifically, Charles Reich located that change in “the college class of 1969, which entered as freshmen in the fall of 1965”—in other words Romney’s class, and mine. “There is a revolution coming,” Professor Reich solemnly proclaimed. “It will originate with the individual and with culture and it will change the political structure only as its final act…At the heart of everything is what we shall call a change of consciousness. This means a ‘new head’—a new way of living—a new man.” A year earlier, my law school classmate Hillary Rodham had given a commencement speech to her class at Wellesley (prominently featured in LIFE magazine) in which she similarly referred to our generational quest for “a more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating mode of living.”
No wonder that Obama managed to beat her in 2008 by appealing in part to the rising national exhaustion with the boomer generation’s relentless navel gazing and incurable self-importance. Because he was some 14 years younger than a typical member of the Class of ’65, and because he spent a significant portion of his childhood abroad, Senator Obama seemed untainted by the ancient and increasingly irrelevant divisions between hippies and straights, SDS’ers and frat boys, New Politics activists who fretted over our “sick society” and reflexive love-it-or-leave-it patriots. In his second book, The Audacity of Hope, the future president expressed his weariness with the endless confrontations between countercultural and traditional values. “In the back and forth between Clinton and Gingrich, and in the elections of 2000 and 2004, I sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the baby boom generation—a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago—played out on the national stage,” he wrote.