Boomer Generation

December 28, 2005 | By Betty Mills

The Boomer Generation, those children of the gang that Tom Brokaw described as “the greatest generation,” have become a sort of milepost in discussions of what is going on in the country. The generation that is now about to send its earliest members down the retirement trail, was once in the thick of protest politics, whether they were carrying the signs or railing against those who did.

That they have left their mark on American society is a given, and certainly they are today at the height of their powers. But what of their children, the so-called Generation X and the Millennials?

Authors Neil Howe and William Strauss, in their book, “Millenials Rising,” look to the Millenials, children born on or after 1982, to right the wrongs of our current society. “A hero generation arrives just after an era of society-wide upheaval in values and culture that many historians call ‘a spiritual awakening’ and passes through childhood during a time of decaying civic habits, ebbing institutional trust and resurgent individualism.”

That fairly well describes our times. Whether it hits the proverbial nail on its generational head is disputable.

One of the wiser politicians I have met was always concerned that the political parties, both his and those other ones, would fail to interest the younger generation and thereby doom both the party and the country to a dismal future. Today, more than ever, we need not just their support—raising money, passing out literature, arranging the meeting room chairs—but their attitudes.

Earlier this month, while visiting in California, I met a young man of very strong convictions. In fact, so intense was he that perhaps that description deserves capitalization: A Young Man Of Very Strong Convictions. A friend of my grandson, he has impeccable manners, an easy laugh and a fierce interest in things political.

Born on the trailing edge of what has been dubbed the Millennial Generation, John is a senior at a Jesuit prep school and headed for college. Clearly relishing the art of argument, and once convinced that I was no shrinking violet grandmother, he often launched us into fierce arguments about the current state of national affairs.

With passion, he argued that the deficit was nothing to worry about since it was such a small percentage of the GNP, and that eliminating Saddam Hussein justified the Iraq War. “Saddam gassed his own people!” he proclaimed in support of his argument.

Any criticism of the current president immediately brought up President Clinton. “He lied under oath, and think about Whitewater.” When I suggested that he must then support the indictment of Vice President Cheney’s assistant, “Scooter” Libby, who is accused of lying under oath, he scornfully dismissed the indictment as somehow a creature of the press.

When I accused him of being an echo chamber for the Republican spin machine, he protested that he was a conservative and not always in agreement with the current Republican party. That would have been a distinction without a difference until very recently when, at least as mirrored in their Congressional behavior, there is a visible case of political acne on their hitherto smooth public face.

This young man dismissed nearly the entire national press and the major networks as “liberal,” and therefore not worth his attention, at which point I suggested he should broaden his sources for information rather than restrict himself to only what he already agreed with or thought he knew. This netted me a look bordering on derision, implying that it would only be a waste of his time.

It was not the quality of his arguments that impressed me, but the fact that he was arguing at all, that he had marshaled facts to support his argument and that he was so engaged in the issues of the times. He did not reach his conclusions while glued to a video game or one of the mindless movies currently on the market.

He is a poster boy for the contention that his generation is different from its predecessors, that “this is a generation that must be reckoned with. They are going to overtake the country.”

I would then caution these rising young leaders in the words of Albert Einstein, “The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.”

My young friend may be in danger of limiting his search for the truth, but I have no doubt that he would not be party to concealing “any part of what one has recognized to be true.”

Connections