Barone & the Ideal Climate for Baby-boomers

As so often, Barone summarizes Gore (and, perhaps, the rest of us baby-boomers) quickly:

Gore and his followers seem to assume that the ideal climate was the one they got used to when they were growing up. When temperatures dropped in the 1970s, there were warnings of an impending ice age. When they rose in the 1990s, there were predictions of disastrous global warming. This is just another example of the solipsism of the baby boom generation, the pampered and much-praised age cohort that believes the world revolves around them and that all past history has become irrelevant.

When we look at the world, we tend to see our own experience writ large. At least I do. Maybe that’s baby boomer solipsism. But that’s American, too. Few still believe in Calvinist theology, but Americans love typology. If we can only find the patterns in what we experience and see, then we can understand what we can’t but which is.

That way of looking at the world leads us to interpretations that reassure us about our perspective.  We grasp for proof that we are “right” – our generalizations fit our experience & we choose from our experiences to fit our generalizations. Each semester that is brought home to me as we spend a day comparing Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, their voices differing over what should be the goals of African Americans as well as how to reach them. They spoke during the same decade. But Washington had been a slave, only emancipated by the Civil War; thirty-five years later, presiding over a college, speaking to large crowds must have been a heady experience. He had come a long way. DuBois was born into an integrated community, schooled at Harvard and Berlin, taught at the University of Pennsylvania, then the University of Atlanta. He set out to argue the innocence of a arrested man in the South, but by the time he arrived, the man had been lynched. The barbarism of a culture that could display the lynched man’s knuckles must have hit him in the gut. Certainly, at that point, DuBois could not have believed African-Americans (or, indeed civilizations) were moving upward and onward.

Then there is the problem of expectations and power. Our parents may have said we could become president, but few meant it, not like Gore’s parents did. And the golden sceptre – well, something happens when that slips through our fingers. Faculty at second tier schools denied tenure at first ones are likely to feel the world isn’t adjusted quite as it should be. Men whose great grandfathers and grandfathers were president are likely to feel the world has not changed for the better when they find themselves unlikely to be elected to much of anything. (So Henry Adams says he’s unprepared but clearly believes the world is just not what it once was.)
I’ve never liked those Barber-like psychological studies, but in a broader & less personal way, we realize that the pattern we use to interpret the world is influenced by our private experiences. And that roller coaster ride of 2000 must have been devastating for someone whose family had always assumed he’d be president. So, Gore longs for a golden past before things went wrong, the time when his life lay ahead as potential. Earth in the Balance became obsession. If we can come back to that temperature, perhaps we can get the world back on the track, perhaps we can get ourselves back on track.

We remember Nixon: what must have happened inside the mind of a man who made the choices he did in 1960, watched the creation of the myths of Camelot, and then came to power in the midst of Vietnam. Carter, watching the sunny & handsome Reagan stride in and feeling cold as the spotlight turned to the man who’d beaten him – well, surely, something was wrong with a country that rejected a view Carter was so sure was right. The perspective of an Arafat, a sense that America was deeply flawed, must seem “right.”

We are less likely to have a confidence in order, less likely to trust the open marketplace of ideas, goods, religions once we are rejected by it. And so, we are more likely to welcome conspiracy theories, more likely to make enemies’ list, more likely to, well, think the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

But, in an aside, we can be thankful that in our long history far more of those who have lost have been comfortable with their moment in history. Few, of course, have been like John Quincy Adams, willing to melt into Congress, fight those fights, live out his years still arguing in that great marketplace that only slowly came to realize that the old man was right, even if he was not always charming. And we see it in the restraint of Bush, Sr., having been rejected by the electorate, but remaining a genial host, encouraging others to talk more than defend himself. His gentleness – like his son’s with Byrd – may come from a peace, a sense life is much nicer on this smaller stage. Of course, he’s lucky – his son carried on the family role.  Besides, considering all the BDS on google I went through to try to find the Surbur link, I can’t but believe that the second Bush upon retirement is likely to conclude it best to “cultivate our garden.” He might remember John Adams’ pride in his manure pile, enlarged to fertilize his own field.

In terms of the bigger picture: I can’t but hope that whoever replaces this Bush is not the kind of person whose vote on an issue like the war is easily bought, that such a person’s perspective has been widened not narrowed by nature and by experience, that such a person retains confidence in the ideas the office represents. We will need a person engaged, one who thinks globally and not in terms of the next earmark, the next election. Our gardens, our earmarks, our manure piles, even our place in history, really should not interest us all that much before retirement.

7 thoughts on “Barone & the Ideal Climate for Baby-boomers”

  1. Nice, thoughtful posting.

    Assuming an elected political leader is not actively wicked and corrupt (eg. declaring themselves a dictator), the best that can be hoped – realistically – is one really big contribution per term of office.

    This usually involves ‘solving’ an outstanding national problem for which (implicitly) they were elected. For example, in the UK Margaret Thatcher solved the major British problem of long term economic decline, which makes her one of the greatest Prime Ministers; even though she made all kinds of terrible errors in smaller things (eg. hugely increasing the power of the managerial central state – especially in the public sector).

    One significant contribution is far more than most leaders manage. Other than that, the little bits of benefit and harm tend to cancel-out.

  2. Barone writes about Gore for 90% of his essay. Then he lapses into the following rather puzzling comment.

    “This is just another example of the solipsism of the baby boom generation, the pampered and much-praised age cohort that believes the world revolves around them and that all past history has become irrelevant.”

    It doesn’t seem he likes the generation very much. Perhaps there is evidence for that, but he presents nothing but Al Gore in this essay. Does that justify judging an entire generation on the basis of Al Gore?

  3. I share Baron’s distaste for the Boomers. Gore represents this generation and all it’s faults very well.

    Raised believing they were the new hope for the world reality has broken them into the people they are today. From meddling city councils and school boards to national players like Gore they still want to tell us what to do while no one has a right to tell them what to do. The “do as I say, not as I do” generation has a real sickness.

  4. Then again there are a lot of us and few generalizations hold completely. For instance, I’m at the tip of the baby boomers & Barone graduated from high school a year before I did – people like us speak from the margin.

  5. And I am supposed to be a boomer also, but I’ve always felt like I was at the very tail end, after the parade had gone buy. All the things that the boomers recollect so well were tired and worn-out and and grubby by the time I was in my late teens and in college.
    I’ve often felt like I’ve done nothing but clean up after the Boomers and try and repair the damage, for all my adult life.

  6. I suppose many folks have a distaste for some other group. Some have a distaste for blacks, some for Muslims, some for gays, women, or golf pros. Some even have a distaste for generation X, Y or Z. For those who think in generalzed terms, perhaps their distaste is a personal comfort. Good for them.

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