I've packed my bags and I'm headed to Seattle and Vancouver for a few days as part of my great American city tour with Althea - so far we've done Austin, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, and, of course, D.C. - and to run a half marathon as part of the North Face Endurance Challenge. Wish me luck!
In the meantime, read this brilliant piece from my good friend Joe. He may be on the other side of the political aisle from me at times, but he's one of the few 20-somethings I listen to and deeply respect for his knowledge of current events in politics. Read on...
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE BABY BOOMERS
Dear Baby Boomers,
Please stop ruining our presidential elections.
While that is an over-simplification of my guest “diatribe,” it is the basic gist: every four years, the baby boomers use the presidential election as a forum to re-litigate the battles of the 1960s.
Thanks in part to the sage punditry of our national media, every four years we participate in a national discussion that enlightens us about the lives and values of our presidential candidates. We get a glimpse into these candidates so we can make an informed choice on Election Day. Let’s see if I can summarize what I have learned about the candidates from the elections I have been old enough to follow...
Communist draft-dodger Bill Clinton organized hippie anti-war rallies in between smoking pot and visiting the Soviet Union while John Kerry faked his medals of honor and spit on his fellow Vietnam veterans. “Goldwater Girl” turned radical liberal antiwar activist Hillary Clinton split summers campaigning for pacifist Eugene McCarthy and running the Wellesley chapter of college republicans. Dick Cheney cowardly “deferred” the Vietnam draft (FIVE TIMES) while aristocrat George H.W. Bush got his spoiled, serial underachieving son a free ride in the Texas Air National Guard. His grateful son was subsequently too busy with drinking binges and coke benders to show up. John McCain was tortured. Bob Dole is really, really old. The end.
For better or worse, individuals who both shaped (as foot soldiers) and were shaped by the 1960s have dominated the last several election cycles. From one perspective, traditional American culture degenerated into anti-American, orgiastic displays of hallucinogenic-induced flag-burning. Privileged radical students seized college administrative buildings while our entire social order turned upside down. From the other perspective, the unjust and untenable status quo was broken. The Civil Rights movement culminated. Liberation thrived. A healthy enthusiasm to challenge authority emerged. The Warren Court pushed too far—or not far enough. And somewhere all those events gave Jenny AIDS.
My intention is not to trivialize the accomplishments of the baby boomers (e.g. the Civil Rights Movement). Nor is it to demean their sacrifices and the pain they endured—from the marcher who fought police beatings and injustice with nonviolence to the Vietnam veteran who proudly served his country only to come home and be called a “baby killer.” The sixties were an implosion of culture and counterculture; it was the inevitable eruption of the old American order. Its triumphs and failures still resonate today. Its backlashes are many.
But herein lays my resentment towards the baby boomers. These events occurred forty years ago. Yet, the same divisions, the same polarization, and the same players continue to fight the same forty-year old battles. And those who lived through that decade continue to dominate American political discourse today.
I mentioned Forrest Gump earlier intentionally. It is undeniable that Tom Hanks’ role as Forrest Gump allowed viewers to see those passionate and unclear events through a lens of clarity and dispassion. His simple yet brilliantly anti-ideological nature managed to take at least some of the partisan sting out of those polarizing historical events. In the end, you could almost view the birth of him and Jenny’s son, Forrest Jr., as a sort of reconciliation between the so-called “radicals” and the so-called “silent majority.”
Forrest Junior would fictitiously grow up unshaken by the divisions of the 1960s as a product of his own generation. With all the talk this year of breaking barriers (whether racial, gender, or even age), for me, the most remarkable and least discussed barrier being broken is the generational barrier. Barack Obama is the first viable post-baby boomer, post-1960s presidential candidate. To some extent, I see his rise as “generational politics” as opposed to the oft-repeated “identity politics” mantra. Yes, women and African Americans largely make up Clinton and Obama’s respective core constituencies. But, a gross distinction among age groups has also surfaced. Most recently, in North Carolina, Obama won voters under 40 by about 30 points. Clinton won voters sixty and older—those who remember the 1960s—by roughly the same margin. Indiana mirrored that disparity less dramatically.
For those of us with boomer fatigue, we finally have someone without the baggage of the 1960s. One could, and many will, argue that he has baggage by association. He has known and associated with some polemical baby boomers in his life. But so far, in a language indecipherable to the baby boomers, he has been able to brush the “dirt off his shoulders”. Baby boomers should take note that “swift boating” a candidate with the words of someone the candidate happened to live by or went to church with is much less effective than doing so with the candidate’s own words.
I have a larger point—although I am a supporter, this diatribe is not an Obama commercial. Regardless of who wins this year, this process of generational change is beginning. While Obama is the first viable post-1960’s candidate, he certainly will not be the last. As a new generation of leaders—whether from generation X, Y, Z, pi?—begin to take center stage, we can take comfort in the fact the baby boomers’ time is running out. The time for rehashing 1960s-era melodrama every four years is coming to an end. The time for “swift-boating” and forty-year old grudges dominating the political agenda is coming to an end. It may or may not end this election cycle but the end is near.
People who are skeptical of Obama’s lofty rhetoric often ask “what kind of change will he bring?” That’s an easy one: generational change. And if not Obama, then someone else soon because those of us, under 40, unencumbered by the 1960s, thirsty for honest discourse and political progress, are emerging as a potent political demographic. We may be cynical about the present but we are hopeful for the future.
A future governed by the offspring of Forrest Gump and Jenny.
Joe Scro was born in 1982.