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Brian Charles: This isn’t your parents’ recession

Washington Journal: the Inauguration

Posted: January 15, 2009 6:13 p.m.
Updated: January 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.

B.C. goes to D.C.: Signal Staff Writer Brian Charles' Washington Journal: the Inauguration continues in The Signal and on Join him on his journey to our nation's capital for the historic inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

Editor's note: Eighth in a series as The Signal's Brian Charles prepares to travel to Washington, D.C., to cover the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

Democratic candidates beg Generation X to rock the vote in 2008. And on two occasions Generation X got excited enough to rock the polls on Election Day and send their man to the White House.

"Vote-rocking" mixed with a third-party candidate who peeled off enough conservative votes sent Bill Clinton to Washington in 1992.

But Generation X is fickle and occasionally unreliable.

Newly minted rock star politician Al Gore didn't show enough of bravado to rally young voters to win convincingly enough in Florida in 2000. And John Kerry didn't excite young people enough to keep him from being swift-boated in 2004.

The difference is more than rock star appeal. To borrow from Clinton's 1992 campaign, "It's the economy, stupid."

Who do you think lived in many of those foreclosed homes and lost those jobs? It's your kids, Baby Boomers, the ones who now live in your house, leave piles of clothes for you to wash, and chug directly from the orange juice container.

The presidential campaign pivoted on the economy and favored Obama, whose policies on the economy are fairly mysterious. He strings together some loose thoughts on middle-class tax cuts, a new stimulus package and a green version of FDR's New Deal.

Obama promised and looks like he will deliver an interactive presidency, with a YouTube version of the fireside chats and a Web site where Americans can blog away their frustrations. Those frustrations will mount if Obama and his cabinet of baby boomers don't recognize the new economic landscape.

The median income for males in 2004 was a little more than $41,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Sounds nice, except adjusted for inflation, that's $800 less than Jack Tripper pulled down in the 1970s. And Jack had two working roommates. American households have multiple incomes like the aforementioned Mr. Tripper, and for good reason. While median household incomes are up 75 percent, fixed costs have more than doubled. Rightfully so, considering my Nissan Sentra is a far superior car than a Gremlin or a Pinto (no disrespect to Gremlin or Pinto enthusiasts).

Mr. President-elect, I want you to sit down for this next factoid. Actually, I want the boomers to sit down for this one, too. Those 20- and 30-somethings aren't blowing as much money on designer handbags, lattes and cell phones as you did on hot pants, BetaMax machines and fondue. Discretionary spending since the 1970s has slipped more than $1,400 dollars when adjusted for inflation as of 2004, according to the statistics bureau. There just isn't any discretionary money after the adjustable rate mortgage balloons and filling up the car requires a home equity loan.

Mr. President-elect, I've heard plenty from my miserly grandmother about saving. She has sweaters older than I, and she's proud of it. She could make a dollar cry, she squeezes it so tightly. But I will tell you what I tell her. My Blackberry won't send me spiraling into bankruptcy, but health insurance will.

Mr. President-elect the solutions are really up to you, but understand that the mandate you received in November isn't the same blank check you, the Congress and George W. Bush gave the banks. The American people are far better bean-counters than anyone on Capitol Hill or Wall Street.

Mainstream media claim Obama is having a presidential honeymoon period like no other candidate in recent history. If oil shoots back up and unemployment hits double digits, that honeymoon is over.

In four years Generation X may rock the vote again, but they will dance to some other politician's tune.


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