Demography may indeed be destiny. I am one year older than Barack Obama. I’m in his post-boomer, cusp cohort, baby! I point this out because it informs the rest of this post.
So I’m sitting on the train yesterday morning, Handel on the i-pod (sonata for violin and harpsichord in D, really sublime stuff), reading the NYT. The life of a civilized commuter. I get to the back page, and after reading the op-ed by the guy who runs his car on leftover french fry oil, I read Krugman, and if not for the wonderful music, I might have begun to get annoyed. Do we really need another self-congratulatory column about how Obama’s nomination shows how much the country has changed for the better over the last twenty years? That’s a rhetorical question. But I kept my civilized equilibrium until I came to this passage:
By the way, it was during the heyday of the baby boom generation that crude racism became unacceptable. Mr. Obama, who has been dismissive of the boomers’ “psychodrama,” might want to give the generation that brought about this change, fought for civil rights and protested the Vietnam War a bit more credit.
Ah. At that moment, I could only wish that Mr. Krugman were sitting next to me. In a friendly manner, I would have placed a hand on his shoulder, and would have said, “Paul, do you know why Mr. Obama and others of our generation, the younger brothers and sisters of the boomers, don’t give them a bit more credit? First, we’re not all convinced that you deserve it. And second, ” — here I would have gripped both shoulders, and started to shake him violently — “BECAUSE YOU WON’T SHUT UP ABOUT IT! Really, Paul, there is nothing more annoying than a generation that won’t stop talking about what some of its members may or may not have done forty years ago, while whining about the ingratitude of us callow younguns. Come back after you storm Utah Beach or something, OK?”
And this is it. The Clintons’ disbelieving reaction to Hillary’s defeat, and Krugman’s petulance, are a preview of the inevitable decline of their generation. They will leave the stage, reluctantly, often gracelessly, wondering why the rest of us did not fully appreciate all they had to offer, and why we were so anxious to see them depart. The only antidote to self pity is self-knowledge, and the educated, middle class boomers were never really required to develop very much of it. It’s like that TV ad for Fidelity Investments, the one that features old guys surfing, says — “The generation that said it would never grow up, didn’t.” They say it like that’s a good thing.