THE BLOG
05/24/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Not My G-G-Generation

Like Pogo said, we have seen the enemy, and it is us.

We boomers never thought we'd become the establishment.

When I was a teenager, back in the '60s, every household I knew was in turmoil between the young people and their parents. They hated our music, our hair, our clothes, our attitudes.

Some families split apart, say, between a son protesting the war and his WWII vet father who thought such actions desecrated the flag he'd fought for. Mothers and daughters clashed over matters of sexuality, once the birth control pill became widely available and women were no longer chained to marriage; their virginity no longer their greatest prize. Black and white parents alike recoiled in horror at inter-racial dating and friendships.

We tested every boundary, challenged every convention, rebelled against every conformity, fought the status quo, and protested injustice. Our sheer numbers forced "the establishment" to pay attention, and the transition from the powerbrokers of the World War II generation to the passionate young crusaders was messy and at times, violent.

And now, here we are. We are the parents. We are the establishment we fought against.

We still have trouble accepting it. We love to rock! We love our Harleys! We still climb mountains and kick ass! We're not old! Our kids think we're cool!

Hell, we ARE cool!

We're oldER, yeah, but not old--NOT LIKE THEY WERE! Not like those old white guys, The Man, who sat in corporate palaces and ivory towers and ran the Orwellian machinery of government, the machine that squelched all creative thought and fresh ideas.

But we are.

We came of age in a passionate struggle against a generation we found corrupt and inert, and we bombarded "the establishment" with our energy and our passion and our idealism and our egocentric certainty that we really could change the world.

And we did, but it was not always pretty.

What a long, strange trip it's been, indeed.

We didn't always have flowers in our hair, for one thing.

Our big ungainly argumentative opinionated generation has accomplished a great deal to be proud of--we were at the vanguard of ending a war, bringing about civil rights for minorities and equal rights for women, drawing attention to environmental cataclysms--but we've also made some drastic and terrible mistakes by that very idealism.

It is, after all, a cabal of baby boomers who started the Iraq war, made an emperor out of a president, stripped all of us of Constitutional rights, and other travesties. And those baby boomers have as much blood on their hands as Bob McNamara or Tricky Dick ever had.

But I've seen these people before.

Back in college, you had the hippies and you had the frat rats; you had the war protesters and you had the G.I.'s who'd served or were serving. You had the radicals, both black and white, who wanted a revolution, and the peacemakers who thought we could find a solution somehow if we'd all just listen to one another. You had the cynics who thought the world was shit and the innocents whose biggest problem in life was what to wear to the big dance. You even had the Jesus Freaks and those who looked for spirituality in less conventional places, like ashrams or out in nature.

I see those simple college-campus wars taking place all over again, between the religious right and the secularists, between the neo-cons and the progressives, between the media-corporate hacks and the independent journalists and bloggers, between the feminists and the home-schoolers, between the flag-wavers and the activists against the Iraq war.

We're still fighting those same battles that we did back then--and that's how we tend to look at things. After warring to make so many changes in the world, we don't seem to know when to quit fighting. As W so famously said, "You're either with us or against us."

It's very ironic, I think, that a generation who vowed never to trust anyone over 30, who completely rejected the conventions and conformities of our parents' generation, and who created an entire youth culture to be courted and pursued by Madison Avenue...somehow failed to realize that a new generation was coming up behind us, striding boldly down the trails we'd blazed, grateful that we'd cleared the brush and burrs from the path but determined to make the journey their own.

In other words, another revolution happened, and most of us missed it.

What I see taking place right now in our culture and society as reflected in this heated political race, is not so much a battle over race or gender--although there have been unmistakable racist and sexist undercurrents.

What is happening instead, I think, is a titanic upheaval that is, simply put, generational.

I see this generational struggle taking place not just in the Democratic party, but in the Republican party as well, and I also see it happening in the world of media and in the hallowed halls of the Sacred Talk Show and all across the spectrum of society--much as it did before, only in more subtle ways.

Though we don't want to admit it, the stark truth is that we baby boomers are aging.

Our children are growing up; we've chased our dreams and dealt with our disillusions and tried to think what to do next--or maybe, more prosaically, how to best survive this third phase of life we're facing. Some lost a lifetime of retirement to an Enron or Worldcom or our careers to downsizing or outsourcing or some other Katrina event in our lives, and we're not sure how to rebuild. We're old enough to have lost old friends to disease or accident or war. Some are trying to keep the life alive in a long-term marriage, some just trying to find one that works. Some defy the physical effects of aging and some lost the battle long ago to chronic illness or pain.

Some hold positions of great power, social position, and wealth.

And they don't wanna let go.

It pains me to say this, but we've turned out to be as blind and bull-headed as our parents' generation. I see this straight down the line.

In the military establishment, for instance--a stressed-out junior officer corps who have fought through multiple combat deployments in an ill-planned and ill-managed war, are defying the generals who hurled them into it in the first place.

They're getting out; leaving beloved military careers behind, forcing the Pentagon to pay attention as their ranks are depleted.

In the women's movement, "shoulder-pad feminists" who came of age in the 70's and 80's and put up with an unimaginable degree of sexism in the early years angrily face down young feminists as upstarts who fail to appreciate all the sacrifices that were made for them.

They don't seem to notice how bright and sassy and smart and sexy and kick-ass the younger feminists really are.

Similar generation gaps exist in the civil rights movement, as well. Aging fire-and-brimstone movement leaders who knew the humiliations of Jim Crow and marched with Martin sometimes don't seem to recognize the sleek and successful African American titans of business that their struggles spawned.

They still carry anger in their hearts that isn't always shared by the younger generation.

In the evangelical world that was so rent through the past decade with hateful campaigns against gay rights and reproductive choice for women, a younger generation of Christians don't see the world in such black and white stark morality. They don't think that gays in love are nearly as evil as the rape and pillaging of God's creation and heedless ignoring of climate change. They oppose abortion, but are far more interested in feeding the hungry than in hanging out around abortion clinics brutalizing terrified young patients.

The death of Jerry Falwell was, I think, a symbolic death as well. The Pat Robertsons and others of their generation who ramrodded an entire political agenda through from school boards to the Supreme Court are losing their grip on power.

In the media-world of punditry and pontificating--almost all the major op-ed writers, columnists, news anchors, and talk show bloviators are of boomer age. And they are looking at this election through that prism, and like the generals, the old-school feminists, and the hate-mongering preachers--they just don't get it.

Time and again, for instance, they boast that, "I don't read the blogosphere."

Any commentator who says that is revealing a willful ignorance. They fail to understand that the younger generation does not get its news from newspapers or network broadcasts. They get their news online and read their opinions from political blogs--most of the biggest of which (Huffingtonpost.com, Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos) did not even exist, say, five years ago.

Blowhards like Rush and O'Reilly and, to a lesser degree, Chris Matthews--those types of shoot-from-the-hip loudmouths whose sole reason for living is just to be able to shout people down on T.V. or on the radio...are losing their audiences. Ratings are falling. Their demographics are aging. Their domination of the airwaves is fading. Their bloated contracts are being bought out.

Young people are getting their opinionating from hip, smart, razor-sharp-funny cynics like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and smooth, thoughtful operators like Keith Olberman.

The Democratic and Republican parties have both been slow to catch on to the young assault on their power-grip. Hillary Clinton was presumed to be the Democratic party's nominee because she and her popular husband had a complete lock on the old Democratic party apparatus, from big donors to party-boss connections to labor unions.

And Hillary was a fighter--way more than Bill. She knew how to fight; she LOVED to fight, and she was ready for the Republican machine. Every vote she's made in the Senate--including the fateful one to authorize the war in Iraq--was done with an eye toward a general election campaign, based on our generation's matrix that had been put in place in the 80's and cemented in the right-wing dominated 90's: embrace the religious right; prove yourself tough on national security; and pretend that you don't know what the word "liberal" means.

On the Republican side, even though they'd lost the congress in '06, they were convinced that the only way to regain power was to be even MORE conservative than they already were, and to grasp for power with every nasty low-life Rovian tactic they could think up--while ignoring, completely, what the
American people really wanted. Even their so-called "maverick" presidential nominee has embraced this mindset.

Both parties, in their own ways, settled into the ruts they'd found tried and true over the past few decades.

And NONE of them saw it coming.

The new revolution.

They still don't seem to get it.

As Frank Rich said, in the New York Times,

it's not 1968, after all. It's not even 1988.

It's a whole new world.

The genius of Barack Obama is not that he is superior over all the other fine candidates who have run on the Democratic ticket. It is that, quite simply, he GETS it.

By setting up a groundbreaking, sophisticated, streamlined Internet campaign from the very beginning, he tapped into that great ocean swell of energy, interest, and excitement just biding its time, waiting to be noticed.

The "Millennials," as Bob Herbert called them in the New York Times, are not all in-your-face fighter types like the boomers. But they're not slackers either. They had already stacked the kindling, but were just waiting for someone to light the match.

The Internet not only put Obama in touch with literally millions of restless and frustrated people ready to work for him--not all young, mind you, but those hip to the power of the online community--but also made available to him a virtually unlimited supply of small-dollar donors who were used to setting up payment plans online, and had no hesitation in doing the same for a campaign they could believe in.

With an online community of like-minded souls ready to give money, it was easy, then, to ask for their time as well, which enabled him to jump-start an excited and energized base of supporters ready to knock on doors and make phone calls and caucus for him.

Obama's speeches, you see, they just provided the inspiration. Those empowering words lit the match and touched it to the dry kindling. And the fire leapt to life.

This is what critics--most of whom are boomers--don't seem to get, when they complain about "empty eloquence," and speeches that are "just words."

(How soon we forget, that it just took one speech, "just words," for an energetic young president to launch an unprecedented and ultimately successful effort to put a man on the moon. And that doesn't even touch the power of words by Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, among others.)

Clinton's campaign was old-style: bloated, top-heavy, and expensive. Thousands--even millions--of dollars were wasted on four-star hotels, luxury car rentals, and ridiculously high-priced campaign consultants.

Obama's was classic start-up: desks crammed into warehouses lined with computers and overworked, underpaid, and dedicated staff. Mark Penn, Hillary's main guru, was paid more than $10 million at one point for his services; David Axelrod, Obama's counterpart, made $1.5 million in that same time frame.

Volunteers, tapped by the vast Obama online network, fanned out to join the campaign in all 50 states, putting to shame the Clinton party-boss structure. This same organization is now involved in a voter-registration drive that should bring even more new Democrats into the fold--it is a ground-up campaign, not a top-down.

And this is something that even many top political correspondents still do not seem to grasp.

Even the Clinton base of older working-class women represents that percentage of aging boomers and their elderly parents, who are suspicious of the Internet--many still do not know how to use a computer--and who seldom have the time to read newspapers because they're working so hard just to survive. They get their news from the old-school sources--talk shows and network broadcasts, and are therefore much easier to manipulate with soundbites and attack ads.

John Lennon once said that he didn't think the Beatles had actually caused the cultural upheavals of the 60's. "It was more like a wave came along, and we caught it," he said.

In a political memo for the New York Times, Adam Nagourney seemed to acknowledge this. He called it, "a party in transition...a different generation (that) promises a very different style of politics."

The Republicans recently got their faces smacked by two crushing losses in the deep South--congressional seats in solid red districts. They had campaigned with Rovian right-wing nasty tactics, linking the Democratic candidates to Obama and his controversial pastor with repetitive attack ads and soundbites.

And yet even after they lost those seats decisively to the Democrats, the chairman of the RNC says they intend to continue to campaign through the general election in that same old way.

We've seen this before, too: An older generation, holding tight to power, to the old ways, to the tried-and-true...standing defiantly on the shore slathering on sunscreen and bracing for the wave that will surely knock them off their feet...while the cool kids are hanging ten and cruising the crest all the way home.

Read more by the author at: Deanie"s Blue Inkblots.