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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ain’t No Great Or Lesser Generations

I have to admit I was a bit stricken by a question posed at TAPPED today by my young and much esteemed friend Matt Yglesias: “Have I ever mentioned that I hate baby boomers?”Matt was reacting to a particularly confused NYT column by baby boomer Andrew Rosenthal complaining that today’s antiwar crowd does not know how to do protests–an argument complicated somewhat by his use of an antiwar concert by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to show that the boomer example of how to sing and chant wars away has been lost. I couldn’t agree more with Matt’s assessment of Rosenthal, or with his broader argument that “protest politics,” as opposed to the more conventional kind, is largely ineffective.But I have to say that Rosenthal’s silly claim that boomers were politically superior to their children is no more objectionable than Matt’s silly claim to the contrary. I’m certainly glad that after twenty years of post-boomer coherts of young folks who tended to vote Republican, the arrows turned during the Cinton era and have tilted left ever since. And I am more than aware that boomer progressivism has been vastly overrated; Nixon, after all, carried the Youth Vote in 1972 after the McGovern campaign pioneered direct appeals to first-time voters.But more generally, it’s time to bury the idea that any generation–past, present or future–embodies virtue or vice in any great measure. We all know about the “greatest generation” of WW2, and its contributions to democracy are rightly praised; but I am more impressed with the previous generation of Americans who suffered through the Great Depression. They were just as moral and hard-working as any previous or later generation, but due to forces far beyond their control, roughly one-third of them were regularly unemployed, and an even higher percentage saw their dreams shattered and their lives blighted. Indeed, the example of that generation–along with the hard-working analogous people around the world who happen to live in dysfunctional societies and economies–is the main reason I reject the whole conservative and Republican social and economic philosophy.Virtue and success are not, in the end, identical, or even close to identical. Politics and policy do really matter, in terms of how life is actually lived by most of us. There are no great or lesser generations of Americans. There are just lucky and unlucky Americans, and whatever our generational background, the challenge is to make life a better bargain. I’m happy to be told that my twentieth-century experience makes it hard for me to understand twenty-first century realities. But let’s don’t claim any superiority for any generation, and let’s hope a combination of new and old experiences will help progressives understand the complicated perspectives of an electorate that straddles the centuries.

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