Upon reading about President Bush’s "flipping off" of protesters on a recent campaign swing through Pennsylvania and West Virginia (he allegedly gave the finger to a group of young boys who were holding an anti-Bush poster on the roadside as the Imperial convoy went by), I got to thinking about our current political and social situation.
Bush’s adolescent response is clearly not an isolated event. Dick Cheney reportedly dropped the "f-bomb" on a Senator in the US Capitol Building last week, and President Clinton was famous for a variety of juvenile pranks…from receiving a hummer in the Oval Office to discussing his underwear with teenagers on MTV (and to this group we should add the late-breaking story of Sandy Berger’s allegedly stuffing classified documents down his pants).
What is going on here? Has it always been this way?
I think not.
Somehow, I can’t picture James Madison or Dwight Eisenhower "whipping the finger" at youthful protesters. Even presidents as recent as Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford would not have been caught dead chatting about their skivvies on national television. And can anyone envision Harry Truman slipping out of a government office with top-secret documents stashed in his socks?
My hunch is that we are in the midst of the fall-out which is accompanying the rise to power of the most self-centered, irresponsible, and yet stridently ideological generation in our history.
Welcome to boomer-dominated America.
Despite the fact that George W. is an odious neoconservative and Bill Clinton is a typical 60’s Marxist, these two presidents actually have a lot more in common than meets the eye. They are, in every way, the first presidents of their generation…and if they are examples of what is to come, the outlook for the future is not promising.
Have we ever had two administrations so profoundly marked by deceitfulness, disdain for tradition, and oddly out-of-place juvenile hijinx?
And this point can easily be expanded past mere presidential politics.
I’ve often heard it said that a nation’s character reflects that of its elite class as a whole. A culture is the outward projection of the values and mores of those in power.
Through that lens, what do we see in our society? Our electronic media culture is dominated by smuttiness, crude sexuality, and foul language. Our economy is drowning in debt, which is largely the result of childish irresponsibility and the wish to indulge in that which has not been earned. Our academic culture is characterized by hysterical, politically correct witch-hunts. Our foreign policy is marked by an oddly strident utopianism.
Does this sound like anyone you know?
Having come of age in the 80’s and being of the generation immediately following the boomers, I’ve had the opportunity to observe them as they have made their way through the various stages of life. And it has not been a pretty thing to watch.
Starting with high school and college, and moving on to the junior levels of the employment world, they’ve warped every institution through which they’ve passed. Their progress has been marked by extreme egocentrism, adolescent rebelliousness against any expected norms, obsessive self-gratification, and the vociferous belief that they have a divine generational destiny to remake global society.
They have somehow managed to combine extreme levels of decadence with an overbearing messianic utopianism.
And over the past decade, they’ve finally reached the age at which the most powerful positions in our nation are falling under their control. The boomers are now in their mid 40’s to early 60’s, and they dominate senior positions in government, business, academia, and popular culture.
And, not coincidentally, all of these institutions are in big trouble.
I recall vividly an experience I had back in 1993, when I was living in Arizona. I happened to be sitting on my front porch listening to a local right-wing radio show. The host was a conservative of the Goldwater type that only Arizona seems to be able to produce. The show’s guest had recently written a book concerning the various generations of America’s past. He theorized that the traits of successive generations follow a certain predictable cycle. The boomers, he stated, are an ardently activist generation-type that was last seen during Abolitionism.
At the time, Bill Clinton had recently been inaugurated as the first boomer president, and the conversation turned to him. My first thought concerning Clinton was that his leftist ideas might be tolerable since we could at least look forward to a peaceful term or two (given that Clinton was an anti-war 60’s flower child).
As if on cue, a caller on the show made this identical point to the author.
In response, the author became quite agitated. He quickly asserted, "No, no, no. You are very wrong. The boomers opposed Vietnam because they were the ones who had to fight it. But they don’t oppose war per se. Always remember that they are a Jacobin generation who will try desperately to impose various strident beliefs on everyone around them. I predict more wars than you can imagine. If any generation in history blows up the planet in a war over some obscure ideological point, it will be the baby-boomers."
At the time, I thought his perspective was a bit odd.
Unfortunately, his prediction is being proven correct.
I’m not sure what should be done to address this problem. Perhaps the WW II generation needs to come back out of retirement. If they can hold on long enough for the Reagan/80’s generation to come of age, the boomers could be cut out of power altogether.
Judging from their first two presidential specimens, it is becoming fairly clear that they simply cannot be trusted.
Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.