November 7, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
‘OK, Boomer’ Is Too Timid
Young people are right. Old people are trying to harm them.
I’m dismayed to discover that some members of my generation have sided with the generation before us in condemning a trendy catch-phrase among younger Americans. Of all people, Generation X (born 1965-1980) should know better than to join the wrong side of a generational war raging at least since Richard Nixon’s second term.
Let me rephrase. It’s not a war in the sense that two sides are clashing. It’s more one-sided. It’s only when young Americans, whether Millennials or Generation Z (ages 7-22), stand up and say something about the war that you hear anything about it in the mainstream news media. Baby boomers own and run the news media. They make the big decisions. Their hold on our news media, our political culture, and what we’re even allowed to talk about is so complete as to be invisible. So when young Americans come up with a flippant catch-phrase like “OK, Boomer” to acknowledge the war, it’s news. There’s never been “friendly generational relations.” Young people are getting woke.
There’s never been “friendly generational relations.”
Let me rephrase again. It’s not so much a one-sided war as a kind of slow-motion sabotage of the very society that created the richest and most politically powerful cohort the world has ever seen. It’s no stretch to say young white baby boomers had every advantage one could imagine from a government shaped and informed by the compromises of the New Deal (later the Great Society). Free college, low-cost housing, thriving wages, and an ever-expanding economy. It’s no stretch to say this same generation did not want to share the blessings of an expanded democracy with the generations that came afterward. The ladder was dropped down for them. They climbed it. They pulled it up behind them. And that started with Generation X.
We should know better. Generation Z, which includes my own daughter, is going to face problems boomers refuse to concede are problems at all. Generation X should understand this well. We have been living under the shadow of the boomer generation our entire lives. So much so in fact that many people forget we even exist. And there’s another thing we understand. Most boomers don’t get it. Never will. Many Gen Xers get it. We have for a long time. Let’s not make common cause with the wrong side.
What do we get? Lots, but what comes to mind is that the boomer generation isn’t really what we’re told it is. To be sure, baby boomers in their youth protested the Vietnam War, marched for civil rights, went to Woodstock, and all that. But that warm nostalgia is contravened by an ice-cold fact. Since 1972, a majority of boomers has voted for the Republican candidate in all but one presidential election. That was Jimmy Carter in 1976, probably due to Watergate’s reformist aftermath. Other than that, boomers went with the Republican each and every time. Yes, not all. But most.
Again: Not all, but most. And I’m not singling out a majority unfairly. This is fair. Because the biggest generation in size and influence voted for the Republican candidate in all but one presidential election in nearly half a century, boomers are responsible more than any other group of Americans for the dominance of the Republican Party between Reagan’s election in 1980 and the financial panic of 2007-2008. They are responsible for the long contraction of government activism in the lives of ordinary Americans. They are responsible for massive inequities of power and wealth. They are responsible for assaults on the law, morality, the environment and on the truth. They are responsible for what was the “conservative consensus” in which everyone, even liberals, agreed that government was best when it governed least.
“OK, Boomer” tries hard to avoid offending people offended by virtually all political reality.
That consensus cracked with the election of the first black president. That’s when limited government, fiscal responsibility and all the other conservative principles were no longer sufficient for a generation suddenly awakened by societal change. The America they grew up in was no longer the America they were living in, and they lashed back against Barack Obama the way they lashed back against 1960s social justice movements. Only this time, instead of creating a new world on an egalitarian foundation of the New Deal, they longed to create a new world on a foundation of selfishness and greed. Democracy wasn’t the solution. Democracy was the problem.
The biggest American generation in size and influence looked at the younger and rising generations voting for hope and change in 2008, and said no. You can’t have the house. We’ll burn it down first. This is what the boomers should be known for. Not peace and love. The “culture war” is drawn out generational conflict that on occasion spasms violently. Only the young are not equals to the old, because the old have all the money and power. Young Americans are right to suspect that older Americans are trying to harm them. But most boomers refuse to call it a war. They’d have to look at themselves if they did. It’s easier to blame “political correctness” or condescend to youth facing incredible challenges. It’s easier to be offended by “OK, Boomer.”
If anything, “OK, Boomer” is too timid. It tries to avoid offending people offended by the acknowledgement of political reality. By virtually everything. Though we failed, Generation X wasn’t timid. We don’t have much, but at least we can offer that.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.
Is there a difference between a Sputnik Generation and a ‘Boomer Generation?’
As a GenXer It was interesting for me to realize that my parents are not, strictly, ‘boomers:’ born in 1943, they were in their 20s in the early-mid sixties, but in many ways had their outlook and upbringing shaped by by the urban-rural split, wartime/immediate postwar patriotism and hardship… rather than by late-50s early 60s suburbanization and US economic ascendancy. Also interestingly, my ‘rebel’ parents may not have been rebelling against _their_ parents so much as their uncles and cousins.
The larger point is that there are some very specific and very significant changes in U.S. society and built environment that underpin the ‘boomer’ world-view: specifically, the interstate, suburban/intentionally-segregated tract housing, and the atomization arising from the climate-controlled car.
Of course, the boomers were born into the world you describe, we didn’t build it, and the neighborhoods were segregated when our folks brought us home from the hospital. From everything I’ve read, there’s still a lot of segregation today, from sea to shining sea, and of course, a lot of economic segregation. Did you grow up in an integrated neighborhood that the boomers later segregated?
On a somewhat lighter note, Gen X is lucky because no one will ever blame the sorry state of the world on them. There’s just not enough of them. The Millenials, however, will be blamed, long after I’ve after departed this earth. How do I know the world will be in rotten shape at some point when Millennials are running things? Because it’s always in rotten shape. Unless Millennials and the younger generations achieve total enlightenment and usher in a beautiful, just, peaceful and perfect world, there will be people agitating to make it better. Paradoxically, the more progress the young folks make between now and 2045, the worse the unsolved problems will look. And while some of today’s younger folks will be part of the solution, many others will be part of the problem, or be seen as part of the problem.
Which ultimately is my main objection to any generation bashing in any direction. If you think “boomers” are the cause of everything wrong in the world today, you’re blaming us for history, and flattening not only a generation with combatants on all sides of current movements for and against progress, but also the larger forces that determine the state of the world, including the fact that the world is constantly evolving. We didn’t inherit a progressive utopia from our parents and turn it into a corrupt, racist plutocracy. We inherited a flawed country in a flawed world that some of us tried to make better by our lights and others tried to make better by theirs. (Both sides won some and lost some. Each side thinks it lost more than it won.) The world is less flawed in many ways than the one we inherited, but hopefully, it is way more flawed in terms of today’s concerns than the world the younger generations will bequeath to their children. But there will be new flaws that today’s kids don’t see that tomorrow’s kids will. The old folks will get blamed. The world will keep turning, if it hasn’t burned up.
“It’s no stretch to say that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren do not want to share the blessings of an expanded democracy with the generations that came afterward. The ladder was dropped down for them. They climbed it. They pulled it up behind them.” Brilliant!
And finally, someone admits that Elijah Cummings was a monster. And Ben Shapiro is a hero, who, along with Diamond and Silk and Milo and Richard Spencer, will save this great Republic (not a democracy!) from the likes of me. Hopefully they can muster the forces necessary to turn back either Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren so those aged, grasping creatures cannot raise the ladder and deprive millions of the opportunities that flowed to them in their privileged lives.
Look, I hate the fact that I sound defensive here, and I really dislike myself for getting angry. There are worse things than being the target of generalized hate, like being the target of generalized hate and having much less social and economic capital than I do, as is the case for African-Americans, immigrants, LGBT folks and too many others. I know I’m lucky and hugely privileged. I’ve always voted for and worked for candidates (Democrats) who wanted to spread the privilege I’ve had as a result of being born white, straight and middle class to others not so fortunate. If I lived in your precinct, I imagine we’d cast identical ballots.
I realize the crack about Elijah Cummings is a cheap shot because you rightly excluded African-Americans from the evil Boomers, but it’s not entirely off base. After all, Clarence Thomas is a black Boomer who grew up poor, just like Cummings. Is it his age that makes him a monster, or his politics? If it’s his politics, and not his age or race that’s the problem, then why not oppose his politics instead of his generation? (Jefferson Davis and Abe Lincoln were born in 1808 and 1809, respectively.)
As to the justification for the gross generalization that lumps together Trump, Sanders, Biden, the Clintons, Jeff Sessions, the Obamas, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the evil side of the ledger and Trump’s spawn, Ben Shapiro, DeRay McKesson, David Hogg and Greta Thunberg on the good side, I’d like to see the data that shows exactly how many Boomers voted for Repubs and how many for Dems. While I know that a majority (or plurality) of folks over 65 vote for Republicans, how many were born before 1946 (they’re not Boomers)? Is it 55-45%? 60-40%? What about Boomers under 65? If millions of Boomers vote the “right” way, how many voting the wrong way does it take for the generalization to be justified? Is there a real difference between someone born in 1965 (Boomer) and 1966 (X)? If not, where do you draw the line — ’67, ’68, 69? (Andrew Sullivan, who loved Obama and hated Boomers, decided that Obama was not really a Boomer, even though he was born in 1961, five years after me, as it happens. GW Bush is ten years older than I am.)
Finally, I don’t know why declaring a generational war is a better way to save the climate, tighten gun laws, reform government, tax the rich and provide healthcare for all, and all the other things X-er’s, Millennials and Z’s (and I) want to do than a war where everyone, no matter how old or young, fights for these things together. As noted, I’m privileged, so I have the luxury of having thick skin. No matter how much hate is directed at me, I’m not changing my values. Still, in a war, making allies is always better than making enemies, so maybe drop the generational bashing and welcome everyone who shares your values.
I don’t judge you by the age cohort you belong to, which would be pretty ridiculous since I’m a fan of Waldman and Sargent at the Post, who clued me into the EB by linking at the Plum Line, and I probably follow far more non-Boomers than Boomers. I even respect you enough to subscribe to the EB! And I’ll renew when the time comes, regardless of whatever slings and arrows you throw my way.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s some kids on my lawn. But not for long!
Just to be clear, RBG is “Silent Generation.” Per my post below, the issue is not so much the birth-year but the environment within which folks grew up. Vis. LA’s baby boom, one might argue, began a decade earlier than the rest of the country.