In Defense of Baby Boomers
I’m fed up with the trashing of the Baby Boom generation.
Sure you can find plenty of scoundrels, freeloaders, charlatans and thugs who were born between 1946 and 1964, but you can find bad and lazy people in every generation. In fact, the so called “Greatest Generation” who preceded the Boomers abounds in them. That doesn’t prove anything.
What has me ticked, as someone who was born in 1949, is that the right wing has for decades been attacking my generation in particular, and has succeeded, pretty much, in portraying us Baby Boomers as self-centered, spoiled and entitled. The right has then cleverly used that deceptive image to go on and attack important programs like Social Security, Medicare, college loans, etc., by trying to divide the generations against each other, claiming that we Baby Boomers are intent on abusing, even bankrupting, those programs.
The truth is something else entirely.
The generation born after World War II in fact has been admirable and almost unique in its altruism. While our parents were either overt racists and sexists or turned a blind eye to those twin evils, and for the most part uncritically accepted the imperialist policies of the post-war US government, our generation challenged the idea of imperial war, supported the struggle of African-Americans to win voting rights and to end legal segregation and, after a struggle in our own ranks, fought for equal rights for women — with many of the men of our age cohort joining in that struggle.
My generation did more in our personal lives and lifestyles, beginning in the 1960s and continuing on through the decades, to break down walls of religious and racial bigotry, than any before us, and we have raised children who have continued that legacy.
As for Social Security, it was our generation that has had to pay more into the system to anticipate our greater longevity and our greater numbers, paying vastly higher Social Security payroll taxes than our parents ever did. We also strongly supported the creation of Medicare in 1965, at a time when we were still more than 40 years from being able to make use of it.
We did it for the generation before us, not for ourselves. Back in 1964, when the last Boomer was being born, our parents were only paying 3.625% of their pay in FICA taxes. When my father was 60, and only a few years from retirement, he began paying 5.4%. We Boomers, meanwhile, have been paying over 6% of our income into Social Security since 1988, which means that for those of us now nearing retirement age, the 30-35 years of our working lives when we were earning our greatest amount of annual income, we were paying over 6%. into the Trust Fund. Since employers match those amounts, we were actually paying over 5% per year more of income during our working lives than our parents paid in theirs.
And the right wing — and even some conservative Democrats — call us selfish and entitled!
We also, far from being selfish, raised families in the face of a prolonged and deliberate corporate assault on working people that saw our unions broken, our pensions terminated, our health insurance benefits slashed, college costs for our kids inflated, and job opportunities for both ourselves and our children lost. We saw our home values crashed by greedy bankers. We are new facing a crisis and a threat as we near retirement age, not because we were self-indulgent and lazy, but because we are the victims of a colossal corporate rip-off, one supported by a corrupt right-wing political movement. This campaign has gutted the programs that several generations of labor activists and workers, including we ourselves, fought to create.
If there is anything critical that can be said about the generation born after 1946, it would be that we got so caught up in our struggles of the moment, and then in raising our families in the face of these challenges, that we have not maintained our “fuck you!” attitude towards authority, and our sense of solidarity with one another and with those who are on the outside of the society and the economy.
My sense is that most of us in the Baby Boom generation still have our basic values. We want a better, fairer, more peaceful world–a world free of imperialism, racism and sexism — but we have lost the sense of militancy that is needed to get there.
That makes me hopeful that as our children move off onto their own, and as we get ever closer to the point that we are depending on programs like Social Security and Medicare for our survival, that we will recover that sense of urgent militancy and that “fuck you” attitude that carried us through the years of the Indochina War, of President Nixon’s Cointelpro repression, and of the Reagan-era assault on the New Deal legacy.
It is time for the Baby Boom Generation to return to its roots. For the sake of ourselves and our friends and demographic compatriots, for the sake of our children and their children, we need to recover that distrust and rejection of authority that is embedded in our generation’s DNA. We need to recall and recreate that exciting sense of community that came with standing shoulder to shoulder against the uniformed enforcers of the Establishment.
It is time to gather up our canes, our walkers and our hearing aids, to ignore our aching joints, and to again start marching and shouting: “Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers!” and “Hell No! We Won’t Go!” (peacefully and quietly into old age, that is).
Dave Lindorff is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He lives in Philadelphia.