Sometimes the unimaginable happens. Back in the sixties, when it was long hair and talking about the revolution and about not trusting anyone over thirty, the Beatles released that ditty about finally turning sixty-four – and it didn’t seem to be ironic at all. We only pretended it was – we were young and vital college students after all. The Beatles must have been being ironic. This was June 1967 – the start of the Summer of Love of all that. The world now belonged to the young and we would never be sixty-four – but damn, that really was a charming song about the joy of growing old together, down all the long years, with things turning out rather nicely. There were those grandchildren – Vera, Chuck and Dave. That notion was a bit puzzling, but this was one of the first songs Paul McCartney wrote, when he was sixteen – and the guys had used it in the early days as something they could play when the amplifiers broke down or the electricity went out. It seems there was not a whole lot of Deep Inner Meaning to any of it – it was a throwaway number.
But somehow the song did take off – it got a reasonable amount of play on the radio, probably programmed to calm worried parents. See, these shaggy kids from Liverpool are really nice young men and not threatening at all. They have a lot of respect for adults and the adult world. They actually want to be happily ordinary. Here’s a song to prove it.
That was probably a relief. Blood pressure dropped all across America, until the parents heard Mick Jagger – but that’s another story – and of course none of us at the time really imagined we’d ever be sixty-four. We were cool.
But the unimaginable happened. We stopped being cool. We got old – we turned sixty-four years ago – and Vera and Chuck and Dave don’t want to hear our stories of the amazing sixties. Start to mention any of it and they roll their eyes. They’re millennials and have their own concerns with the real world right now. Paul McCartney didn’t mention that – there comes a point where you just don’t matter anymore. No one wants to hear what you did at Woodstock – you probably weren’t there anyway – or at the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago – if you were really there. The issues have changed. Make love, not war? It’s more complicated than that now. It was more complicated than that back then, but never mind. It’s time for the baby boomers to step aside.
Some of them know that. Heather Parton knows that:
As a member of the generation that made a mantra of the words “never trust anyone over 30,” I have never blamed younger people for dissing the baby boomers. I think it’s important that each successive generation have a healthy skepticism of their elders and stake their own claim to the culture. Lord knows boomers did; we pretty much took it over and told the older generation to go to hell. (Well, at least until we got old enough to co-opt the Greatest Generation’s “brand” and make some serious bucks off of it.) Psychologists believe that an adolescent rejection of parental control is necessary to develop an adult personality, so young people proclaiming “Boomers suck!” is probably a natural rite of passage.
Still, I’m not sure generational theory is a very useful way to analyze our society in general.
She goes to cite Neil Howe and William Straus and their respective books – Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584-2069 and Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation – and suggests that people took those two guys too seriously:
The theory basically posits the idea that “generations” are predictably cyclical and produce certain archetypes out of particular events. But, while this is fascinating stuff to think about, I’ve never found it to be convincing as a way to understand the world.
She prefers Rebecca Onion in the latest edition of Aeon making the case that Howe and Strauss’ ideas are “pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo” which Onion sets straight:
She traces the study of generational theory back a hundred years in some detail and finds that academics “have by and large concluded that generational thinking is bogus.” It’s a convenient way to look at history, but it’s like reading the Classic Comic version of Shakespeare: You miss all the complexity of the characters and the poetry of the language.
However, from the standpoint of electoral politics, demographics are impossible to ignore; and age, if not generations, is certainly part of that.
If so, a good political strategy might be to drop the boom on the boomers. Their day has come and gone. Republicans might have a chance to attract large numbers of young people to their ticket because Hillary Clinton is a boomer, and she sees that is what is happening:
The first shots were fired this week when The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol charged right at Hillary Clinton, basically saying she was too old to be president. Sure, he couched it in the usual “Baby Boomers suck” language (which is revealingly adolescent of the 62-year-old pundit) but basically he’s making the case that Gen-X Rubio or Walker are the better choices for GOP voters.
That is basically what Kristol says:
Last week, Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin convened a focus group of Iowa Democrats to discuss Hillary Rodham Clinton. They were Ready for Hillary. Indeed, they were enthusiastic about the prospect. But when Halperin asked them to name an accomplishment of Hillary as secretary of state, they couldn’t come up with one. Nor, for that matter, could they have named an accomplishment of Hillary as senator. Nor as first lady. Nor as Arkansan.
This is not evidence of the deficiencies of the Iowa school system. No group of Americans in any state could honestly name any significant accomplishment of the woman who is the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination for president, and who is ahead in most general election polls as well.
Not that this is necessarily a problem for the Hillary candidacy. None of the three most recent presidents had much to show for himself by way of accomplishments, personal or professional or political, when he ran for office. Each could in fact be said to have had more in the way of disqualifications than qualifications for office. Yet Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all became president.
Once is happenstance. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is a trend. Perhaps lack of accomplishment is a feature, not a bug, for baby boomer presidents.
After all, in the world of the baby boomers, what is an accomplishment? Accomplishments are what their parents, conventionally patriotic and earnestly bourgeois, labored and strove for. Baby boomers, by contrast, aspire rather than labor, and seek rather than strive. Baby boomers aspire to the appropriate attitude and affect, and seek the suitable sense and sensibility.
So it comes down to this:
The boomer presidents [Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama] were indulged as young men. They then indulged themselves with the fancy that they should be president. The voters indulged them, too, passing over the question of their qualifications – and, indeed, excusing several manifest disqualifications.
So Hillary Clinton would fit right in. She would be a worthy successor to the boomer presidents who have stood at the pinnacle of American politics for almost a quarter century. Hillary’s would be the echt-boomer presidency. She would be our second affirmative action boomer president (after Obama), our second boomer legacy president (after Bush), and our second reflexively dishonest boomer president (after her husband).
It may be that every generation gets the presidents it deserves. But enough already. Surely it’s time – to use a phrase associated with the Clintons – to move on.
Parton fires back:
In other words, just die already.
One is left to imagine what the “accomplishments” of the younger Republicans he envisions becoming president might be. If it’s Walker, you’d have to say successfully evading an indictment and surviving a recall election are his main claims to fame. Marco Rubio has also managed to evade an indictment, and ran for Senate and won, so that’s something too. The rest of the pack is all… baby boomers. Every last one of them, from Huckabee to Fiorina to Santorum to Bush, was born during the ’50s or early ’60s. Even Rand Paul (whom Kristol is definitely not endorsing) comes in right under the wire.
But again, this is really about the inevitable right-wing narrative that Hillary Clinton is an old hag. You knew they couldn’t resist it. And that’s when you run right up against a different demographic group, and it’s a doozy: Baby Boomer women.
Parton notes that even offended Republican columnist Kathleen Parker:
I don’t usually single out other commentators, but I’m making an exception – not because I’m a woman, or a boomer, or a Hillary Clinton supporter (though Kristol makes me want to be one), but because despite being wrong about most everything, he remains an influential voice in politics.
Basically, Kristol posits that the past three presidents – all boomers – were “indulged” do-nothings and part of a generation who only “aspire to the appropriate attitude and affect, and seek the suitable sense and sensibility.”
Who’s he hanging with? And should we tell him he’s a baby boomer, too? Kristol, 62, snuggles his self-loathing like a blankie.
“Accomplishments are old school,” he writes. (I’ve got news for you, honey. Boomers are old school.) “Accomplishments are what their parents, conventionally patriotic and earnestly bourgeois, labored and strove for. Baby boomers, by contrast, aspire rather than labor, and seek rather than strive.”
Whose parents? Kristol’s weren’t exactly manning the dikes – or the ‘burbs. His father, Irving Kristol, was a public intellectual and columnist, and his mother, Gertrude Himmelfarb, is a scholar and historian.
What wonderful good luck to be born of such parents, who could indulge their children with an intellectually stimulating home and a fine education, and to be spared the earnest pursuits of the bourgeoisie.
One naturally wonders, meanwhile, what Kristol considers an accomplishment. Did Steve Jobs accomplish anything by revolutionizing communications through creation of the Apple kingdom? What was the civil rights movement? Just a dream, I suppose. Women’s rights? Never mind. The World Wide Web? Come on, Bill.
Kristol lavishly praises the greatest generation. Who doesn’t? I liked them, too, but I just called them my parents.
She is cruel here, and then there’s this:
Perhaps Kristol was exorcising some of his own demons with this column – resolving long-simmering issues resulting from having been an indulged, Ivy League boomer who didn’t serve in the military and whose accomplishments are in the vein of commenting on the actions of others. …
Is it the Clinton in Hillary he doesn’t like? Kristol led the charge to defeat her efforts to reform health care as first lady. Or is it the woman in Clinton he finds so offensive? Perhaps he prefers women in flirty skirts and high heels to sturdy women in pantsuits? It was he, after all, who pushed Sarah Palin as the worthiest running mate for John McCain.
Probably all of the above and something more. Implicitly – and rather coquettishly, I might add – Kristol just defined the terms of his assault on Jeb Bush. Rather than say that Bush is merely another of those indulged boomers, he laid it all at Hillary Clinton’s feet, damning the past three presidents, insulting millions of his own cohorts, and revealing a measure of self-contempt in the process.
Parton adds this:
Half of the electorate are women and half of the older demographic Kristol insulted as a bunch of losers are women, and a good many of those are women who usually vote Republican, like Kathleen Parker. It would seem to be rather reckless of Republicans to denounce so many potential voters with such a sweeping condemnation.
But then Kristol might calculate that while he may alienate women, and older women in particular, screaming “Boomers suck” will be just the thing to bring over some of those Millennial voters who have rejected the GOP ticket in such huge numbers up until now. So maybe you can’t blame him.
But she adds this:
Boomer warhorse Hillary Clinton seems to recognize that her political future is tied to these youngsters, and is formulating her political agenda with that in mind. From campaign finance to a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers and their families, to a hike in the minimum wage, her campaign so far has been very conscious of the top-level concerns of young people. She may be old, but she isn’t stupid either.
Gen-X dreamboats Marco Rubio and Scott Walker, on the other hand, are offering young people a bleak vision of endless war, antiquated social values and economic hardship and they know it. It matters little if that dark picture of the future is offered by a youthful fellow with an ethnic name. It’s embarrassing for the Republicans that they don’t understand that.
Ron Brownstein suggests they understand this:
In 2016, for the first time, members of the millennial generation will almost exactly equal baby boomers as a share of adults eligible to vote, according to projections from the nonpartisan States of Change project. The project forecasts that, next year, millennials (which it defines as those born between 1981 and 2000) will represent 30.5 percent of eligible voters, virtually matching the baby boomers’ 30.7 percent. By 2020, boomers will shrink to about 28 percent of eligible voters, while millennials rise past 34 percent, the project forecasts.
Because eligible older adults vote more reliably than younger ones, millennials almost certainly won’t catch boomers among actual voters next year. But that day is nearing: Millennials could cast more ballots than baby boomers by 2020. …
This transition is ending a dominant run for baby boomers, the huge cohort born between 1946 and 1964. Boomers eclipsed the GI Generation that fought World War II as the largest share of eligible voters in 1980 and passed them as the biggest bloc of actual voters in 1984, Census figures show. They have reigned as the largest generation on both counts in every presidential race since.
But now boomers are giving way to millennials (and the first post-millennials, who will cast ballots in 2020).
But they won’t be voting Republican:
Democrats have performed much better with millennials, who are more secular (one-third are religiously unaffiliated) and diverse (more than 40 percent are nonwhite). Though Democrats have lost some ground with millennials since President Obama’s 2008 victory, he still carried 60 percent of them in 2012. Particularly on cultural issues, Democrats have aligned their agenda more closely than Republicans have with millennial views. More than three-fourths of millennials back gay marriage. In a recent ABC / Washington Post poll, nearly two-thirds of them said they wanted the next president to act on climate change, and almost three-fifths preferred a president who would legalize undocumented immigrants. And while millennials look skeptically at all big institutions, polls have found them more receptive than older generations are to a larger government providing more programs and services. (Although white millennials view government more skeptically than their minority peers, those younger whites are more open to expansive government than are older whites.)
Everything aligns with the Democrats, and the only problem they have with Democrats is performance:
During Obama’s two terms, the generation has struggled economically. Compared with earlier generations at the same age, millennials are more likely to be poor and less likely to be married. Most important, today’s households headed by 25- to 32-year-olds have accumulated only half as many financial assets as their counterparts had in 1984 – even though more young people today hold college degrees.
The Republicans screwed up but Obama didn’t fix it all:
Millennials are straining to advance partly because so many entered the labor market after the 2007 financial crash. But the generation’s unprecedented student-debt load has compounded its problems. About two-thirds of millennials, compared with only about two-fifths of later baby boomers, say they borrowed to attend college.
That’s the difference here:
While baby boomers benefited in their youth from increasing public spending – on everything from interstate highways to the big state-university systems – millennials have faced a sustained squeeze on investments in their future. That shift is encapsulated by eroding taxpayer support for public higher education, a key pathway to upward mobility. Robert Hiltonsmith, senior policy analyst at the liberal think tank Demos, recently reported that state appropriations now cover only 44 percent of educational costs for public colleges and universities, down from two-thirds in 2000. That has shifted costs partly to the federal government (through rising Pell Grants) but mostly to students and their families. The contrast with the baby boomers is revealing: Measured in inflation-adjusted dollars, tuition for public universities increased by about $450 from 1964 to 1976, while waves of boomers attended. By contrast, public-university tuition soared by more than $3,200 from 2001 to 2012 as the millennials poured onto campuses.
The millennials are screwed, and the boomers aren’t helping:
Compounding the generational inequity, millennials can expect higher taxes during their working years to fund Social Security and Medicare for the aging boomers. Millennials’ growing political clout is shifting policy on cultural issues like gay marriage. But the real test of the generation’s rising prominence will be whether it forces the political system to invest more in education, health, and training programs that support its future productivity – even if that means shifting resources from the retirement of the baby boomers, who the millennials are poised to surpass.
That is a problem, but young Ryan Casey suggests this:
Supporting Hillary is a no-brainer for millennials. For all of their disappointment with a political system poisoned by secret campaign cash, millennials know that putting a Republican in the White House is hardly the way to reform our criminal justice system, address global climate change, install a more just immigration system, advance LGBT rights, or lessen the Supreme Court’s corporate protectionism.
She may be a washed-out old boomer in a pants suit, but there’s no point in lowering the boom on her:
Of course millennials are not about to embrace the “traditional liberalism” of the New Deal, or view racial and ethnic struggles through the lens of the 1960s Civil Rights movement. Those Democratic programs flowed from coalitions of voters long since disintegrated. But with fresh perspective, new technology and a bold sense of civic purpose, millennials are poised to reshape the party of Barack Obama – and Hillary Clinton – to our liking over the next several decades. In the process, we will reset the conversation on America’s civic ethos on our own terms.
Hey, that’s what we old farts did back in the day, when we were young whippersnappers! Cool. They can work with her. They can’t work with any of these Republicans, no matter how young they are. They’re all old souls – or they’re old farts already. Now if we can just stop talking about Woodstock and the Summer of Love and all that other stuff. Vera and Chuck and Dave will do just fine, and we passed sixty-four years ago. It’s time to sit back and watch, and smile, and maybe hum that old Beatles tune. It means something now.