Sunday, December 09, 2007

Attention Gen X: It's time to take the car keys away from the Baby Boomers.

It all started out so promisingly. You may remember; many of us were still in high school or college, perhaps barely paying attention, but the boomers were. Oh, yes they were. The time had come to "take the car keys away" from the WWII generation. The boomers had a persuasive case. The first President Bush had led us into a recession and had posted record budget deficits. In short, it seemed that he was steering the nation into the ditch, so the analogy was apt.

Enter baby-boomer Arkansas governor Bill Clinton. Clinton was going to turn the country around. With lofty talk of universal health care, equal rights for gays in the military, and balancing the budget, it seemed that the time had come for the baby boomers to make the generational transition and take the wheel. And so they did.

Early on, Clinton fumbled his first few efforts. Gays in the military had to accept a half-baked compromise: "don't ask, don't tell". Go ahead and serve in the military, but you'd best pretend you're not gay. Then came universal health care. Again, Clinton fumbled the ball. He handed the task off to his wife, who managed the process poorly. She invited lawyers into her fold and devised a health care plan, as it was put at the time, "by lawyers, for lawyers". It was summarily shot down by the Democratic Congress and never heard of again. Nearly sixteen years after candidate Clinton promised universal health care, America still has 40 million uninsured Americans.

Credit where credit is due: the boomers did balance the budget, but it must be noted that this was for a very short period of time. Clinton also oversaw the largest economic expansion in U.S. history; no mean feat. Finally, he deserves credit for his role in the Northern Ireland peace process, essentially the European equivalent to achieving peace between the Israelis and Palestinians (something he was unable to do).

But if we are to credit boomers for their successes, we need to also address their shameful antics, as well as the abject failures. For Clinton is not the only face of the baby boomers in the 90s: the other is Newt Gingrich.

For the Republican side of the ball, Gingrich represented a new life to the Republicans. He managed a take-over of both houses of Congress. The Republican Congress had a number of accomplishments: welfare reform (which Clinton successfully took credit for) and through work with the President, they achieved the largest budget surplus in American history. But then they took their eye off the ball. Instead of working with President Clinton to bring America into the 21st century, they exacted petty pay-back for Nixon by impeaching him over a consensual affair with a White House intern. The Clinton impeachment would become emblematic of their remaining time in power. Time and again, they would turn their old grudges into the nation's business, as though ending poverty and racism were less important than getting pay-back for various perceived slights. It can be said that the baby boomers peaked early, jumping the shark during Clinton's second term.

Fast forward to 2000, featuring a Presidential election pitting perhaps the most capable and talented politician of their generation against perhaps the least capable and talented politician of their generation. We all remember how that went down. The highly intelligent and experienced Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote, but lost the electoral vote to the dim-bulb Texas Governor George W. Bush (with the help of some cheating in Florida, perhaps as pay-back for the cheating that got Sen. Kennedy elected over Vice President Nixon). For the first time in ages, there would be a Republican Congress and a Republican President.

And everything went to shit.

The economy took a dump. The record budget surplus became a record budget deficit. The largest terrorist attacks on American soil destroyed the World Trade Center, ended 3,000 lives, and killed our collective sense of security. Bush invaded and conquered two countries in response, neither of which led to the capture of Osama bin Laden, the terrorist leader of the organization named as responsible for the terror attacks. Over 3,000 American soldiers dead in the sands of Iraq. Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast, wrecking Biloxi, MS, flooding New Orleans, LA, and killed over 1,800 people. George Bush ate cake. And now it turns out that Bush was trying to lead us into another war, this time with Iran. The new Democratic Congress hasn't shown the fortitude to stop him, even with his hand caught in the cookie jar, post NIE release. And, of course, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Democratic front-runner shrugs and acts as if voting for the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, which contained language which pushed us toward war with Iran, was no big whup, even after her "if I would have known then what I know now" excuse regarding her "Yes" vote on the Iraq War resolution in 2002.

It occurred to me that the remarkable similarities between Iraq and Vietnam are no mere coincidence. The boomers never truly resolved the Vietnam War in their collective minds, so of course they had to fight it out again in the sands of Iraq... and on our backs. If this is the case, then it shows just how important these old political grudges (many, like Vietnam and Watergate, dating back to before I was even born) are to them: they are more important than the lives and well-being of their children and their children's children. Is that too harsh? Perhaps. But it's not as harsh as the conditions they've put our generation into: war without end, deficits numbering in the hundreds of billions, a national debt numbering in the trillions, record oil prices, and...

...what are the Democratic candidates for President of the United States offering us if we vote for them? Universal health care, equal rights for gays in the military, and balancing the budget. A candidate named Clinton. Does this all sound familiar to anybody else? Nearly sixteen years of boomer leadership: nothing gained, nothing resolved. Even the grudges are more pervasive than ever. I've heard more than one Clinton supporter talking of pay-back if she gets elected. Enough already.

I've come to a stark conclusion: the grudges of the baby boomer generation are too all-encompassing for them to overcome for the good of the country, and they render the baby boomers completely incapable of governing effectively. Al Gore, perhaps the greatest hope for the boomers to redeem themselves, has said "fuck it", picked up his ball, and gone home. Beyond that, who do we have? Hillary Clinton? It's like the boomers aren't really even trying anymore and have already been relegated to yearning for the "good old days", which were never really all that good to begin with.

The time has come for Generation X to step up to the plate for the good of the nation... and the world. This is not to say that we don't have our own issues. We are somewhat late to the game, and we frittered away our early years on existential pondering of what our grand purpose in life even was. In that sense, by not acting as our parents' conscience as the boomers did for the WWII generation in their youth, we have some measure of responsibility for how bad things have gotten. But clearly, like father like son, President Bush has steered the country into a ditch, and perhaps it's fitting that, like his father before him, the end of his Presidency hails the advent of a new generation of politics.

Our time has come, and it is my sincere hope that we will rise to the task. As we speak, the first Generation X Presidential candidate is seeking the Democratic nomination, and it is somewhat fitting that he is a mixed-race man who didn't know his father growing up. Generation X was been described as a generation possessing only a hazy sense of itself (is Obama black or white? Does it really matter?). In Fight Club, one of the most influential books/movies of our generation, we were described as a "generation of men raised by women". Obama fits that bill as well. It should be noted that Tyler Durden then said, "I'm wondering if another woman is what we need." It's almost prophetic, really.

But this is not a call simply to vote for Barack Obama, although it fits the narrative. This is a call for Generation X to step up to the plate in all areas of politics. That boomer congressman who's been sitting there collecting pork and kickbacks since 1994? Out. Better yet, run against him. You may be surprised to learn how many Gen X-ers feel as I do, and agree that it's time for us to take the wheel. Tired of being told that we're not good enough, that we'll never be as kewl as the groovy boomers who marched against the Vietnam War, don'tcha know? Do something about it. Above all, we need a generation of leaders who don't have quite so much fucking baggage as the boomers do. Because we're not divided along ideological lines the way the boomers are, we might actually be able to get something accomplished. And remember, the battles we've been fighting are the battles of our fathers, who were never there for us anyway. So how 'bout we stop squabbling for a moment and take the car keys away from Mom and Dad?

For their own good, of course.

2 comments: said...

Wow. I was expecting total "Bash The Boomers" post. Instead what I found was a well thought out and well reasoned analysis.
You gave Clinton credit in addition to pointing shortfalls. You didn't mention his sexcapades!

I'm a boomer.

I agree with you. It's time for Xers to step up and take power. Nobody gives away power, it has to be taken.
I'll argue that most in the Congress are far from being boomers, but that doesn't change my agreement.

Good luck. Keep up the thoughtful commentary.

Anonymous said...

I have to laugh as I think of a conflict I witnessed in my local circle. On the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the summer of love in San Francisco, two groups of people planned two separate events. They bickered over which performers would play where under what name. Eventually one celebration was cancelled and some of the most desired performers (the ones recognizable to the younger generations) were out of the mix. If the people on the same side of the "culture wars" cannot get along, does the Clinton-side vs. Bush-side (or whatever) even half a chance?