Monday, November 26, 2007


Over the holiday I finally read "Goodbye to All That," Andrew Sullivan's Atlantic article about Barack Obama, as well as Lakshmi Chaudry's Nation article " Will the Real Generation Obama Please Stand Up?" Both articles advance the premise that what's wrong with American politics is that it's infested with evil Baby Boomers who fight all the time -- a disease for which Obama is the cure. Here's how Sullivan puts it:

Unlike any of the other candidates, [Obama] could take America -- finally -- past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us....

At its best, the Obama candidacy is about ending a war -- not so much the war in Iraq, which now has a mo­mentum that will propel the occupation into the next decade -- but the war within America that has prevailed since Vietnam and that shows dangerous signs of intensifying, a nonviolent civil war that has crippled America at the very time the world needs it most. It is a war about war -- and about culture and about religion and about race. And in that war, Obama -- and Obama alone -- offers the possibility of a truce.

This is an idea that's simple, compelling, and a complete crock.

Yes, we fight a lot in American politics. Yes, it would be nice if we could bury the hatchet. Maybe we'll do it if Obama because president. But I doubt that he has generational power to stop the bickering, because our fights are not just Boomer battles.

Look at some recent skirmishes in our politics. When a war starts in 2003 and one of the prime targets of right-wing anger is an opponent of that war named John Murtha, a congressman who was born in 1932, how is that the result of Boomers fighting with Boomers? What about when the target is Senator Robert Byrd, who was born in 1917 and whose opposition to the war regularly inspires right-wingers to change the subject by bringing up his membership in the Klan, which ended in the 1950s? And at the other end of the age spectrum, what are we to make of the attacks on New Republic editor Franklin Foer (a 1996 college graduate) for his decision to publish articles about military life by Scott Thomas Beauchamp (born 1983) -- is that a Boomer battle?

When preachers who are mostly in their sixties and seventies stir up the rabble to oppose gay marriage and right-wingers use gay-marriage referenda to get out the Republican vote, is that a Boomer fight? Yes, the gay-rights movement that flourished after Stonewall has long been full of Boomers, but gay marriage wasn't on the agenda until long after the '60s and '70s were over. What about the Terri Schiavo controversy, or the fight over embryonic stem cell research -- Boomer battles? Is the universal health care debate a Boomer fight just because it's associated with Hillary Clinton -- even though this was never a significant part of the agenda of Boomer activists in their prime?

And what about the combatants? Sure, Rush Limbaugh's of prime Boomer age -- but Ann Coulter is four months younger than Barack Obama; Sean Hannity is a few weeks younger than Coulter; Glenn Beck is nearly three years Obama's junior; and Michelle Malkin is nearly a decade younger than Obama. If we're engaged in an all-Woodstock Generation war, there certainly seem to be a fair number of child soldiers on one side -- and I don't think they're conscripts.

The same is true on the other side, obviously; as Chaudry's Nation article notes, many of the big dogs in the left blogosphere are Generation Xers. Bizarrely, though, Chaudry implies that any partisanship these non-Boomers demonstrate is actually the Boomers' fault -- or, rather, the fault rather of one particular Boomer):

There's no better example of a "new progressive" than Jerome Armstrong. Born in 1964, he long identified as an independent, working for environmental groups or public-service organizations like the Peace Corps while remaining wary of party politics.

... then came a governor from Texas who changed everything. "In 2000, there was this realization for people my age: Hell, there is a difference between Democrats and Republicans. George Bush proved that," Armstrong says.

So I guess even when non-Boomers like Jerome and Kos are being quite literally partisan, they're still, at heart, actually non-partisans, and the nasty partisanship that's poisoning our politics is still all the Boomers' fault.

Sorry -- if you have to torture the facts this way to make them fit your conclusion, then your conclusion doesn't hold up. Obama may have observed that our political fights look like intra-generational squabbles, and two essayists may have seized on that notion and run with it, but it just doesn't bear scrutiny.


And then yesterday a Boston-based TV political analyst named Jon Keller declared in The Washington Post that Obama is evil because he actually is a Boomer. (This is demographically accurate -- Obama was born in 1961, and the Boom extended to 1964 -- but no late Boomer grew up with optimism of the early Boomers, as I know full well, having been born in 1959. The early Boomers had grooviness and hope; we had prog-rock, stagflation, and gas lines.)

Keller is monomaniacal. Barack Obama stops wearing a flag in his lapel? Blame it on Boomerism. (Go read dnA on that subject.) Boston's Big Dig has dangerous structural problems? Boomerism's fault again. (Er, Jon, do you think every construction failure in the history of Boston happened because of the Baby Boom? Did the windows fall out of the John Hancock Tower in 1973 because Timothy Leary dropped acid? The designer of that project, by the way, co-founded his firm in 1955.)

Ah, but pay no attention to Keller, who, by the way, seems to have a few problems with journalistic ethics. In fact, pact no attention to anyone who thinks our problems would all be solved if all the members of one demographic cohort all dropped dead.

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