Jill at Brilliant at Breakfast has words for the young folks who blame America’s problems on Boomers.
Last month I had an extended and rather heated exchange with one of our commenters who made a host of sweeping generalizations about baby boomers, few if any of which were true. I’ve had conversations with some of my Gen-X friends on this as well, with many of them similarly blaming the baby boomers for their own plight. I’ve even seen Gen-Xers trying to claim Keith Olbermann as one of their own, even though he was born in 1959 and therefore is indisputably a baby boomer. I hate to tell them this, but no less a Gen-X icon than old Lloyd Dobler himself, John Cusack, only escaped the dread Baby Boomer label by a mere six months.
I’m seeing a lot of this lately; blaming the baby boomers for everything that’s gone wrong in this country, hand-in-hand with the idea that Gen-X, Gen-Y, and the Millenials are somehow either a) hapless victims of the evil boomers (largely the province of Gen-Xers who are now reaching an age when the refusal to “sell out” is starting to have the nasty consequences of no savings and no health insurance); b) greedy, evil people who have sucked up all the resources and left nothing for anyone else; or c) an entire generation of hippies who had all the sex and all the drugs and all the fun and then became Republicans and tried to deny anyone else the fun they had.
I’ve seen a lot of this, too, and while I don’t think all Gen-Xers, etc., are guilty (that would be generalizing), enough of ’em are guilty, and it annoys the bleep out of me.
Jill is right when she says,
There’s this notion Chris and others put forward that the 80-hour workweek is somehow the invention of sellout baby boomers out of pure greed for bigger houses and ever-more electronic gewgaws and STUFF. But the fact of the matter is that at least for people born my year and later, especially those of us on a white-collar track, the defined benefit pensions and job security that our parents enjoyed was already largely gone by the time we emerged from college into a recession caused by the second oil shock in a decade.
This was my experience, also, and I’m older than Jill. By the time I was out of college the kind of job security my parents had enjoyed was already evaporating. I agree that younger people today are getting a raw deal generally compared to us Boomers, but we Boomers got a rawer deal than our parents did after World War II. And I believe the forces causing this creeping rawness were put into place while most of us Boomers were still babies.
I have in my hands a book titled Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism, 1945-1960 by Elizabeth Fones-Wolf. Dr. Fones-Wolf documents that during the very years the Boomers were birthed, a cabal of wealthy corporate leaders used their resources to undermine the popularity of New Deal progressivism and unions. They succeeded, and this success ushered in the era in which corporations could demand that workers pretty much turn over their lives to the Company. Before most Boomers were even in high school most of the damage had been done, and by the time we entered the workforce the rules had already been changed, although we didn’t realize it right away.
Our parents were certain that the road to success lay in staying with one employer for years and years and years, accumulating pensions and vacation time, and for the most part that worked for them. But most of us Boomers learned, slowly and painfully, that this life plan was no longer possible. Certainly some among us bought the corporate bullshit and played the games, but most of us have just been trying to survive. And now making a living is even more precarious. This concerns me deeply. I want to reverse this pernicious trend and help younger people achieve a better quality of life.
However, my dears, if you are going to blame me for your problems … go bleep yourselves.
I’ve pointed out many times that the archetypal rightie-bot is a Gen-Xer whose earliest political memories are of the Carter Administration. You see this over and over again. I’m not saying all Gen-Xers are rightie-bots, but I do think a disproportionate number of the loyal soldiers of the Right are Gen-Xers. I expect someday the Millenials will turn around and slam Gen-Xers for causing their problems, so be prepared.
Every generation has its idiots. My generation is as diverse as any. The activists among us did get some things wrong, such as putting too much faith in single-issue and “identity” politics. We also thought Ralph Nader was our hero … oh, wait; that’s a cross-generational mistake. Sorry.
The truth is that we Boomers were brought up in the 1950s to be idealistic and patriotic. I’ve written about this before, here and here. We faced an entirely different culture with entirely different challenges than younger people do today. No doubt some of what we did makes no sense outside that context — you had to be there — but if you’d been brought up in the 1950s, you’d have felt drawn to beads and patchouli oil, too. Trust me.
Recently Andrew Sullivan wrote an article for The Atlantic that extolled Barack Obama as the post-Boomer candidate (in truth, Obama was born in the waning years of the Boom) and blamed the Boomers for America’s culture wars and “a cultural climate that stultifies our politics and corrupts our discourse.” This is, IMO, one of the biggest piles of steaming crap Andy has ever produced, and that’s saying something. The rifts in our culture pre-date the Boom, and what has corrupted our discourse more than anything else is the emergence of the extreme Right via the Goldwater/Reagan wing of the Republican Party. (See pseudo conservatism.)
Must of the griping against Boomers is the result of rightie propaganda about the 1960s and the counterculture and Boomers generally, and like most rightie propaganda the Narrative has little to do with what actually happened. It’s disheartening to see so many allegedly progressive people fall for it. So if you’ve fallen for it, wise up.
Update: See also Richard Blair at All Spin Zone.