Yesterday on the shuttle to Newark Airport, I was talking with a woman who is a realtor in New Jersey. She was talking about how ill-prepared her young grandhcildren are to face an austere world. She had raised her children alone in a three-room apartment before finally being able to buy a house. I know she gets Medicare, so she is at least sixty-five. That makes her a baby boomer parent. Her children always worked -- at household chores, paper routes, lawn-mowing. They grew up and had children, and her grandchildren have always received anything they wanted, because their parents -- those children of a baby boomer mother -- wanted their children to have everything they didn't have. Her teenaged grandson has a brand new car, its lease paid for by his parents.
It's not unusual these days to see things like this. I used to work with a guy around my age (baby boom generation) who drove a Ford Taurus with a cracked winshield across the Tappan Zee Bridge every day while his high school age daughter drove a brand new car given to her by her World War II-generation grandparents. Another person I know drives her high school age daughter two blocks to school every day and was horrified when the local Dunkin' Donuts closed because "Where are the kids going to get their coffee?"
We are now seeing representatives of the McMansion generation -- kids who grew up in 4000-square-foot houses, each with his/her own bathroom. As much as I adore little Rachel Crow on X Factor
, no, a girl does NOT need her own bathroom. But that's what parents, not all of them baby boomers, have done to their children in the name of "giving them what we didn't have."
Young people are seeing the current budget wars as a war on them -- their own future Social Security benefits at risk because of what they see as a generation that grew up in plenty and privilege. But just as there are kids today who DIDN'T grow up in McMansions and have strong work ethic (one that I know heads up a household of two sisters, a brother, and a nephew), not everyone born between 1946 and 1964 spends their days navel-gazing and collecting Social Security checks that they now want to deny others. Because I'll tell you this much: The teabaggers in their hoverounds were not out there in the streets in Chicago in 1968; they were the YAF crowd in plaid pants and Izod shirts with "Nixon's the One" stickers on their notebooks.
The navel-gazing stereotype is an image perpetuated by the media, and by all too many early baby boomers themselves, who look back with nostalgia at their own youth. But what younger people don't understand is that we did this ourselves, with our parents as they looked back on their youth. My late father-in-law felt that his days in the Army were the best time of his life. And this was someone who fought at the Battle of the Bulge. He believed that Glenn Miller was the greatest musician that ever lived and that every piece of music put out since the Big Band era was crap. Every generation does this, and today's young people will too when it's their turn.Digby wrote about this the other day
, citing an exchange that Rick Perlstein had in a live chat not all that long ago. It's worth clicking over and reading, if only for Rick Perlsteins statistics on just how LITTLE the pop culture and media images of the baby boom generation reflect reality. Generations are as heterogenous as any other group, and it's interesting to watch supposedly progressive people being willing to stereotype an entire group -- the generation born in 1946 and 1964 -- as being all exactly the same, and being so blind to reality:
But the fact is that "generations" don't do things and it's facile to look at the world in those terms. Indeed, in the case of the "millenial" vs the "boomers" it's downright self-defeating. The "boomers" who are failing to "make the hard choices" are actually saving their grandkids from the twisted logic of Pete Peterson who is using generational warfare to agitate for the "millenials" to defy their parents by ... cutting their own retirement benefits. After all, Peterson's not talking about cutting off grandma. He's talking about cutting off grandma's favorite grandson. And grandma is the one fighting to stop it.
Look, there's no denying that there are a lot of us. Some provisions were made in the early 1980s to recognize and deal with it. But of course governments of both parties found that piggybank to be very tempting, and now Republicans see the Social Security as the only creditor that the US can tell to fuck off, we're not paying.
When we fight to keep Social Security, we're not just doing it for us. We're doing it because we haven't really changed all that much after all. We still see ourselves as part of a larger community (ZOMG, socialism!!) and we recognize that part of that community is the many generations that will follow us.
Labels: generational conflict, Social Security