Under the Sun
Americans not so easily pigeonholed, after all
This whole presidential primary period has been seasoned over-generously with generalizations.
Political wizards industriously divide, subdivide, segregate, pigeonhole then reconnect the dots to fuse a uniform portrait of voters.
Even though there's valid basis by which large groups of people can be categorized, judging actions by age, race, gender and income level in whatever combinations suggests an alienation among people that doesn't exist.
I'm not sure what's to be gained in detaching red states from blue, women from men, urban from rural, old and young, blacks from whites, whites from everyone else, not to mention the enormously nonspecific designations of Hispanics, Asians and native/indigenous Americans.
For candidates, it is standard fare so they can tailor appeals; for political experts, it is modus operandi to make sage predictions. But this time, guesses made through the usual gauges have gone wide of the marks, and models that worked before have miscalculated outcomes.
The differences are that for the first time, a woman and a black man have good chances of winning the White House and that voters, dispirited by the current administration, are aroused and longing for new direction. There are candidates from both parties that people want to vote for rather than casting ballots to keep another out. Americans themselves are more diverse, defying outmoded classifications.
Republicans -- fielding, for now, a tough old bird of a senator and a Southern, guitar-playing creationist conservative -- don't have a vastly dissimilar situation from the past. Ideology is much in play for Republicans, while age has gotten little attention.
In the Democratic contest, age is being interpreted in generational generalizations. Though the contenders are both members of the "Baby Boom" -- people born in the span of post-World War II years from 1946 to 1964 or 1945 to 1963, depending on who you ask -- divisions are being chipped between "early boomers" and "late boomers."
From what I can decipher, the split is necessary to explain a notional variation in perspectives, that earlys have a cynical view due to the Vietnam War, civil rights conflicts and Richard Nixon while lates are imbued with a sense of deprivation, having missed Woodstock and the sexual revolution. Thus, the thinking goes, earlys will side with one candidate, lates the other.
There are also suggestions that the earlys need to take a back seat so that lates and younger generations can get in front, that the groups don't share the same concerns and the culture of youth demands they step aside.
Then there's the woman thing. In previous elections, candidates paid service to "women's issues," courted "soccer moms" and tried to win endorsements from women's organizations. With a woman in the race, the handicappers are forced to recalibrate and have taken to delving deep into the female temperament. Opinions abound about risk-aversion, resistance to change and the competitive nature among women dictated by biological impulses.
Such nonsense. While behavior can be predicted to some extent by examining characteristics, not everything about individuals or even groups with similar traits can be factored in. If there is to be a single imagery of American voters, it should not be set in clear, straight lines, but look like a smeared impressionist painting, specks of color touching and overlapping one another.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org