Saturday, January 17, 2009

Boom Boom Boom

It’s useless to protest, because the meme isn’t disappearing anytime soon. But it would be so salutary if we could figure out some way to put a stake in the heart of a particular piece of pervasive foolishness that infects commentary and gets schlepped around in political discourse generally.

I’m speaking about the idea of Boomer partisanship, fractiousness and culture wars.

It’s not just the strawman du jour for those seeking to defend Barack Obama against legitimate criticism – indeed, any criticism – on everything from FISA to tax cuts to Rick Warren to universal healthcare to Social Security. It goes deeper than that. It’s helping to dumb down our thinking more generally.

The idea is so silly and lazy that one would think it would be dismissed on its face. The notion that the Baby Boom generation was uniquely fractious or partisan reveals a narcissistic ignorance of history. Even high school Social Studies ought to have instilled awareness of the humans’ long narrative of conflict, tribalism, misogyny, racism, partisan struggle and general lack of evolution as a species. But if that was too much to pay attention to, what is one to make of people who have watched the genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, or the rise of Islamic fundamentalism – all of them carried out not by Boomers but primarily by Xers and Yers – and who nonetheless attribute to my generation a puzzling clinging to our bitterness and battles? (In case it needs saying: Obviously, I’m not saying Gen X or Y is uniquely violent or crazy. In fact, the silliness of such characterizations in general is my point.)

This lamebrained idea isn’t just a crutch, a way to opine without actually learning or thinking. It’s also a vehicle for an age-old neural path that’s strongly etched into humans’ brains: generational conflict. The claim about Boomers isn’t empirical, but it’s not a “lie.” It expresses a genuine feeling – one of the mix of complex feelings children have had about their parents since time immemorial: You're not giving me room to breathe. Go away and let me live my life.

The examples of this nonsense are too numerous to mention here. Hardly a piece of punditry gets published these days without some trace of it. In tomorrow’s NY Times Magazine, for instance, there’s a representative ditty from Matt Bai. The article in which it occurs isn’t my focus here – it’s a typical mishmash of half-thoughts and Obama-cult musings. Some of the points are valid – such as the possibly dispositive nature of the current crisis for policy formation, and Obama’s “elusiveness” – and some are not. My point here is simply to use the following passage – annotated for your convenience – to demonstrate the self-contradiction, muddled thinking and prejudices of this generational meme:

“Already, in the weeks since the election, Obama has endured the moans of disgruntled constituencies in his own party whose idea of the outsider is difficult for any breathing politician to fulfill. Progressive activists online and inside the party have complained bitterly about Obama’s turning to so many pragmatic insiders – that is, public servants who ran Washington in the Clinton years – to populate his cabinet, rather than reaching out to more academics or state-level politicians whose political instincts have not yet been corroded by Washington’s penchant for incrementalism. [So… he didn’t reject the moaning, disgruntled Boomers, then? He hired them? And these old-timers are examples of… pragmatism, not identity politics or bitter partisanship? And yet, aren’t we told that partisanship was the defining characteristic of Washington and politics in general… until now? I’m confused…] Then, too, have come the inevitable protests from identity-based interest groups: Latinos and African-Americans in Congress who weren’t satisfied with the number of senior appointments, as well as gay activists lamenting the omission of a gay cabinet nominee. [I don’t know about you, but the chief complaint I’ve heard from gay activists wasn’t about a cabinet nominee, but about Rick Warren. And isn’t it interesting that the “interest group” he leaves out is the one most damaged by the Obama movement – women?] That sound you hear is the last wheezing gasp [It’s true. Old people are short of breath.] of boomer-age politics, the cataloging of individuals according to their areas of oppression [OMG, when will they get over it?], the endless process of tallying cultural differences rather than aggregating common objectives. [Okay, so ‘boomer-age politics’ was about cataloging oppressions and endlessly tallying cultural differences? As in the civil rights movement? As in the women’s movement? As in the anti-war movement? As in the environmental movement? As in the music and the culture that produced Woodstock? Those phenomena were not about, er, aggregating common objectives? And their legacy was an endless laundry list of complaints, and not a body of legislation, programs, laws -- and at least partially changed consciousness?] It is a political philosophy that probably made sense 30 years ago [“probably”? “made sense”? He can’t be bothered to learn about it? Or maybe he just doesn’t think it’s worth seriously characterizing.] but that seems sort of baffling [How puzzling we are to these new, rational beings, as we do our tribal Dance to Identity and Bitterness around the bonfire.] at the dawn of the Obama era, when such interest groups are among the most powerful in the Washington establishment [Right. Gays are running the place. Latinos are running the place. Women are running the place. And African-Americans have progressed so far that they really have nothing to complain about any more. Life’s good. Oh, and the presence of some representation in D.C. is sufficient demonstration of progress all around.] – and when the Man himself is black.”

See what I mean?

1 comment:

Becki Jayne said...

Falstaff, you handled the Boomer subject brilliantly.

When Andrew Sullivan wrote his "divisive Boomer" piece, "Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters," and then I read some liberals going along with Sully's sop, I wanted to throw up. Andrew Sullivan!?!! Gawd! He's no ally. First, he's a pathological Clinton-hater so for Sully to go on about anyone being divisive is projection.

This lesbian boomer thanks you for your blogging.