The question of 1968 and the Baby Boomers takes us back to the overarching dilemma raised by this blog, the tension between freedom and morality. Absolute freedom means not giving a damn about anyone or anything but oneself. Absolute morality means totally losing oneself like a drop in the communal sea. Life, however, deals in cases, not absolutes. Every case is a reckoning between freedom and morality.
Conceptually — that’s a Boomer word — the Baby Boomers chose absolute freedom. In dramas and TV shows, that’s the ideal state. Think Easy Rider, or Thelma and Louise. When it came to cases, the Boomers chickened out. Nonconceptually — I just made that one up — our lives have been as dull and solid and workaday as our parents’. We dreamed of being Fonda on his chopper, or gunning the pedal into the canyon, but we grew up to be amazingly like good old Mom and Dad.
I hold that to be among the few Boomer virtues. We became hard-working and hard-parenting (another Boomer word) types, to everyone’s surprise. But in the great Boomer hive mind, the Conceptual Dreamworld, we are still riding that chopper down the highway, with Steppenwolf music blaring, long (alas) hair flowing, rebellious, contemptuous of every conventional virtue, everlastingly free.
Boomers spend a lot of time in that Conceptual Dreamworld.
William Kristol’s take on the topic du jour, 1968, sports a wonderful title: “Not-So-Great Generation.” I don’t necessarily believe that our parents were the “greatest generation” — but “not-so-great” perfectly characterizes their offspring. We have been too busy posturing and conceptualizing to achieve greatness in any measure.
Here is Kristol, sizing up Boomers in politics:
The most prominent of the boomers spent their youth scorning those of their compatriots who fought communism, while moralizing and posturing at no cost to themselves. They went on to enjoy the benefits of their parents’ labors, sacrificed little, and produced nothing particularly notable. But the boomers were unparalleled when it came to self-glorification, a talent they began developing as teenagers and have continued to improve up to this day. They were also good at bamboozling their parents, and members of the “silent generation” like Tom Brokaw, to be overly deferential to them — even to the point of giving them credit for things they didn’t do.
Now the first boomers are applying for Social Security. Their time is passing — without eliciting any discernible consternation among their successors. It’s not that every last one is unworthy. But for each David Petraeus or Ray Odierno (two very impressive members), there are countless posturers and blowhards who have received wildly disproportionate attention. We’ve had two boomer presidents now, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. They followed eight presidents whose lives were more or less defined by the experience of World War II, or the Cold War: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush. (Carter is the exception that proves the rule–a bit young to be defined by World War II, he turned out to be a kind of baby boomer avant la lettre.) With all due respect to Clinton’s intelligence and Bush’s determination–it’s hard to make the case that boomer presidents were an improvement. (And some of the most impressive characters in the Clinton and Bush administrations — Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Vice President Dick Cheney, to name two — weren’t boomers.)
I again quote my eldest, the Sophistpundit, on the subject: “There is no problem in the world that won’t be solved when the Baby Boomers die.” Kristol’s hope is for the “9/11 generation,” as he calls them. I agree with him, as I do with Sophistpundit. But I take some comfort: these are our children, after all, and if we raised them to be better than us, it will have been a far superior legacy than any of the turgid self-obsessed fantasies in the Conceptual Dreamworld.