Monday, December 11, 2006

Generation X Comes of Age

Generation X was primarily known for being the first generation to grow up watching television from birth. From the time I graduated college in 1991 it seemed we were stigmatized as self-absorbed and apathetic cynics. Well times may be changing.

Lindsey Layton reports in today’s Washington Post that a “30-Something Working Group” is making their presence felt in the House Democratic caucus. According to the article, young members such as Reps. Kendrick Meek and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (in the photo) of Florida and Timothy J. Ryan of Ohio made a name for themselves during the campaign making speeches on CSPAN after 11:00PM. These late night speeches are known as “special orders,” when lawmakers may speak up to an hour about any topic after the day's business is complete. I seem to recall a young firebrand named Newt Gingrich garnered plenty of attention doing just that in the 1980s.

Although the committee chairmen in the House will be experienced veterans such as Charles Rangel of Ways and Means, incoming Speaker Pelosi is bucking the seniority system somewhat for younger members. As Layton reports, Pelosi announced last week that,

“Wasserman Schultz will be a deputy chief whip and Meek and Ryan will serve on the party's steering committee, which sets policy and makes committee assignments, along with two incoming freshmen. In addition, Wasserman Schultz and Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) are being considered for a seat on the prestigious Ways and Means Committee, which sets tax policy, and Meek is vying for a seat on the Appropriations Committee.”
One wonders if this means a dramatic shift of culture in the House of Representatives. The younger breed is known to be aggressive about ethics reform for example. Decades ago, the powerful House Speaker Sam Rayburn used to counsel young members that the best way to get along was “to go along.” How will these younger members, empowered by Pelosi interact with old bulls such as Charlie Rangel, John Conyers and John Dingell?

Members of the post Watergate class such as Dick Gephardt and Al Gore became assimilated into Washington culture and associated with the establishment. I hope this new wave manages to maintain their reform-minded spirit and not become institutionalized by their newly won prestige. My advice to them is be guided by this philosophy:

"Power without principal is barren. Principal without power is futile"

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