The boomer factor.

Author:Niose, David

The post 1980 strategy of opposing the religious right by calling attention to liberal religiosity is especially puzzling if we consider the mood and the demographic landscape of the times. Liberalism had been alive and well--surviving, if not thriving--up to 1980, and the baby boom generation was entering adulthood at that time (ranging in age from late teens to early thirties when Ronald Reagan was elected), so it's not totally clear why politicians and the media would have felt that religion needed to be vitally important in politics. In fact, since were often told that baby boomers carried more modern, enlightened attitudes than previous generations, their coming of age presumably should have delivered a much more effective resistance to the Jerry Falwells of the world. To understand why this didn't happen, we must dispel some common misperceptions about the baby boom generation.

Born between 1946 and 1964, the years immediately following the Second World War, baby boomers have always been an important demographic, partly because of their sheer numbers (the Depression and war had caused many to delay childbearing, resulting in the postwar boom) and partly because of their importance in shaping American popular culture in the prosperous postwar years. Unlike their parents, boomers grew up with television, rock and roll, relative abundance, and an understanding of their nation as a global superpower--but against the incongruous backdrop of the Cold War and the possibility of nuclear annihilation. Their maturation process was, in retrospect, fairly predictable: In their childhood, they generally enjoyed much more material comfort than their parents had known; as they grew up, they went through a rebellious period, questioning many of society's norms and assumptions; and then as they grew older, they settled down and generally conformed to the system that had produced them.

To listen to the baby boomers, however, one might think that their generation launched a liberal revolution--when in fact the exact opposite is true. Never has a generation been so overrated in its contribution to liberal progress, so self-congratulatory in light of facts that are undeserving. Boomers wax nostalgic about their younger days of marching for civil rights and protesting against the war in Southeast Asia, and they'll get sentimental about Dylan concerts and the Summer of Love, but their wistful narrative usually ends just before they lurched to the right in adulthood and led the nation toward decades of conservative--and anti-egalitarian--dominance. "If you can remember Woodstock, you probably weren't there," wrote humorist Jim Shea in a 2008 Hartford Courant column about his generation, paraphrasing 1960s icon Wavy Gravy. "Yeah, we were cool."

The operative word here is "were."

Although they think of themselves as the generation that brought the language of peace and love to the American dialogue, boomers have spent most of their lives serving institutions and values that find such ideals quaint, if not repugnant. Having enjoyed college without incurring insurmountable debt and graduated to an economy that provided good jobs and affordable housing, boomers subsequently grew up to make the term "born again" part of the American vernacular, help elect Ronald Reagan to the presidency, give a harshly antigovernment GOP control of the House of Representatives in 1994 (for the first time in four decades), and then, in their crowning achievement, put George W. Bush (one of their own) in the White House to start the twenty-first century.

Boomers were in their prime when the Soviet Union fell in 1991, ending the Cold War, and thus could have pushed for demilitarization, rational public policy, and economic fairness, but instead they allowed Wall Street and anti-egalitarian interests to dictate policy under the guise of "globalization" and "free markets," thereby decimating the middle class. As corporate profits have continuously reached new heights, the gap between rich and poor has expanded, and real income has declined for average Americans. Driving SUVs to large expensive homes in the suburbs or exurbs, where they...

To continue reading