Looks like it was a slow news day at the Washington Post yesterday. How else to explain the front-page treatment given to the president’s upcoming 60th birthday and the breaking news that “baby boomers” — that most self-obsessed, self-congratulatory and insufferable of generations — are getting older. In a piece that reads like a carbon copy of every other insipid boomer piece written since Bill Clinton was the first member of his generation to move into the White House, reporter Peter Baker (who has done some great work from Iraq and Moscow) tries to suss out what growing older means for boomers.
Soothing the fragile egos of geriatric boomers across the country, Baker gently asks, “What does it mean that the generation of revolution has become the establishment? What does it mean that the generation of idealism has been tempered by reality? What does it mean that the generation of vigor and optimism now begins to peer over the hill at mortality? If Bush has any thoughts on that, he’s keeping them to himself.”
Give us a break. Older members of the “generation of revolution” have been card-carrying members of the establishment for at least 30 years, and by the early 1980s the “generation of idealism” was sending scads of young lawyers, thinkers, partisans and activists to man the battlements of the Reagan revolution — which was built on the backs of boomers who were just then entering politics.
And doesn’t calling boomers the “generation of revolution” overstate the case by half? It seems safe to argue that only a tiny slice of boomers actually belonged to the Weathermen or the SDS or the Black Panthers. As for the rest, once their parent-funded college rebellion was over, they went on to become productive, tax-paying members of society — just like every other generation before and after them.
Continuing to stare wide-eyed at the preening colossus of the boomer generation, Baker breaks the story that some middle-aged boomers currently serve in government. “Baby boomers, generally defined as those born between 1946 and 1964,” he writes, “now dominate the halls of power. As of last year, they controlled 41 of the nation’s 50 governorships, exactly half of the 100 Senate seats and 275 of the 435 House seats. With the ascension of John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr., they have even begun to crack that last bastion of the Silent Generation, the Supreme Court, where with Clarence Thomas they now have three of nine seats.”
In other words … a handful of professionals in their 40s and 50s have become politicians and judges!
Overall, this is little more than navel-gazing of the most annoying sort. At this point, it’s probably safe to say that we get it: In the 1960s, a vast minority of boomers went to college, and of those, a minority protested the war in Vietnam and took part in other social crusades. And good for them — things changed, from civil rights to women’s rights to ending the war. But let’s not forget that the people who actually voted for and made these changes were the people in power. In other words, members of their parents’ generation. What’s more, as Luc Sante wrote in his review of the new book Timothy Leary: A Biography in Sunday’s New York Times, the boomers’ youth wasn’t all sweetness and light. The generation of inwardly-focused youth of the 1960s was also marked by “its often gaseous rhetoric, its reliance on mahatmas and soothsayers, its endless bail-fund benefits and sometimes dubious appeals to conscience, its thriving population of informers, its contribution to the well-being of lawyers, its candyland expectations and obstinate denials of reality, its fatal avoidance of critical thinking, its squalid death by its own hand.”
Somewhere between that dim view and the sunny, back-slapping view the Post splashed across its front page lies the truth. But, really, isn’t it about time that we retire journalism that celebrates everything boomers do as an event?
It makes for boring reading, and even worse history.