America’s mid-life crisis

I have a theory.  America is going through its version of a mid-life crisis.

According to Wikipedia, the term midlife crisis was first coined “in 1965 by Elliott Jaques and used in Western societies to describe a period of dramatic self-doubt that is felt by some individuals in the "middle years" or middle age of life…The result may be a desire to make significant changes in core aspects of day-to-day life or situation.”

How do people who are going through a mid-life crisis show it?  The “acquisition of unusual or expensive items such as motorbikes, boats, clothing, sports cars, jewelry, gadgets, tattoos, piercings, etc.;  depression; blaming themselves or their partner for their failures;  paying special attention to physical appearance such as covering baldness, wearing "younger" designer clothes etc.;  entering relationships with younger people (either/or sexual, professional, parental, etc.)”

    Here are some signs that the nation is going through the political equivalent of a mid-life crisis:

•    The collective mood of the American people is sour.  According to the Associated Press, fully 67% of the American people believe this country is heading in the wrong direction. 
•    They entered into a relationship with a young, inexperienced and physically attractive Presidential candidate, who they are now starting to turn on. 
•    They are blaming their politicians, not their partners for their problems.  76% of those polled disapprove of the job Congress is doing. 
•    One sign of mid-life depression for men has been caused by problems on the job.  And close to 20% of the American people surveyed say they are underemployed. According to Gallup, 6 in 10 of the underemployed are not optimistic about getting full-time jobs anytime in the near future. 
•    Paradoxically, the American people do have an abiding faith in themselves, paradoxically.  According to another Gallup poll, Americans were asked to name the one or two strengths of the United States that make them feel most optimistic about the future of the country and, conversely, the main weaknesses that make them the most pessimistic. The American people themselves, named by 35%, and the nation's military (14%) dominate the list of perceived strengths.  Information technology came in third. 

There is reason to think that this mid-life crisis has been going on for a while and may have contributed to the economic boom.  Instead of buying a fancy car that they couldn’t afford, millions of Americans bought the house of their dreams that they couldn’t afford.  We are feeling the consequences of that right now.  

    Demographically speaking, it would make sense that we are going through a collective mid-life crisis.  After all, the baby-boomers are just now hitting their fifties and sixties.  From a numbers perspective, we have a lot of people who are going through a personal mid-life crisis. 

    As this generation, who has done so much to shake up America, from the rebellions of the 1960’s, to the egoism of the 1970’s, through the prosperity of the Reagan years, the dot-com revolution of the Clinton years, and the challenges of the Bush era, confronts middle age, it worries that the best days of America are behind it.

    That, of course, is complete non-sense.  America’s best days are still in front of it.  But for many of these folks who saw their retirement nest-eggs wiped out with the stock market collapse, who are getting laid off because they were either make too much money or they can’t keep up with changing technologies, and who have a lot of time on their hands, things look pretty bleak. 

    They are looking for answers.  And President Obama, who promised to be the change we can all believe in, is looking pretty much like the politician none of us can trust. 

    CNN found that most of the tea party’s most active participants are baby boomers.  A Pew poll found that “America's baby boomers are in a collective funk. Members of the large generation born from 1946 to 1964 are more downbeat about their lives than are adults who are younger or older.” 

    A year ago, President Obama was the beneficiary of America’s mid-life crisis.  He was the Presidential version of a trophy wife.  He was young, and hip, and attractive, and he promised change, and he made the baby-boomers feel young again.

    Well, like any trophy wife, the thrill is gone.  The baby-boomers are finding that the vote that once made them feel good is now making them feel slightly embarrassed.

    They don’t feel any better about their prospects.  They aren’t getting any younger.  They aren’t getting any healthier.  They certainly aren’t getting any richer.  And worse, they don’t have any control, and the man they elected President is just not listening to them.

    So, they are now protesting, just like they used to protest in the 1960’s. And they are mobilizing.  And they are angry.  And they are going to take in out on incumbents, especially Democratic incumbents who lied about draining the swamp, lied about making the economy, lied about spending, lied about taxing, and worse, lied about change. 

    America’s mid-life crisis was good for Democrats in 2006 and 2008.  It will be good for Republicans in 2010.

John Feehery is a former top spokesman for former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and founder and president of the Feehery Group.