Hating on boomers has become a sort of national pastime and shared narrative, with people on the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ finding plenty of reason and agreement to blame boomers for everything that is seemingly wrong with society today. For the ‘left,’ boomers are perceived as out of touch, privileged/entitled, and are to blame for student loan debt, the housing bubble, and the stock market crashes of 2000 and 2008. For the ‘right,’ boomers are blamed for social/societal decay, national indebtedness, the healthcare crisis, illegal immigration, and so on. In agreement with the smart-left, the smart-right agree that boomers are detached and blissfully ignorant/naive from the harsh economic and social realities facing younger generations. Boomers are perceived as valuing consumption and instant gratification and want policy that enriches them at the expense of the young. Their time preferences are high and they don’t care about how their actions affect society in the long-run, as they will all be dead.
But how much of this blame is justified? As it turns out, possibly not as much as commonly assumed. The major critics of the boomers overestimate their age and influence on politics and policy. Boomers are Americans born between 1946 and 1966, making them between 55-75 years old today. There are 76 million of them alive, making them the larges democratic cohort, eclipsing millennials by a couple million. First, how can we even make a generalization about so many people. Among the young, there are MAGA-millennials and ‘Bernie bros.’ Second, people tend to become more conservative as they get older, as reflected by voting patters, so this is ‘good’ for the ‘right’. Boomers helped put Trump in power, as opposed to Obama, who benefited from a large millennial and gen-x turnout. Boomers are also major proponents and constituents of the NRA and gun rights. They are not, by any stretch, all aging hippies trying to relive their youth.
Regarding the age and influence of boomers, what many boomer critics don’t realize is, is that although boomers are old, they are not that old. A 60-year-old boomer today was just 30 years old in 1990, which is not that long ago. How much influence could a 30-year-old in 1990 really have? Not much. Maybe a lot of influence in the private sector as a budding lawyer, a broker (like Gordon Gekko), or a start-up founder, but politics tends to be an old person’s game. Politicians tend to be at least in their 40s or older, and many politicians, such as Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, and Gary Johnson, transitioned from the private sector into politics. Even if you get into politics in yours 30s, it typically takes a decade or longer to gain enough support and build the necessary alliances to win major elections or to establish oneself as a consultant or power broker. Bill Clinton, who is 72 years old and is thus at the cusp of being too old to be a boomer, served as governor of Arkansas from approx 1979-1992. So thus before the early 80s, boomers had negligible influence in politics. They were either too young to hold national positions of power or they were in the private sector. In the 1970s boomers were graduating from college and or entering the workforce. They weren’t drafting legislation, teaching college courses, and shaping the future direction of the country.
Only by the ’90s did boomers hit their full stride in politics, with such examples being Newt Gingrich (who at 76 barely qualifies as a boomer) and Mike Huckabee, aged 66 who became the 44th governor of Arkansas in 1996 . But if the nation was already forsaken and forlorn by then, and many on the right agree that by the ’90s it was too late or that the Rubicon had been crossed, then the boomers cannot be blamed. By the ’90s, Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, and other conservatives were already railing against the ‘PC left-wing agenda.’ Rush Limbaugh wrote a book as early as 1992 decrying it. Same for conservative televangelist Pat Robertson, who 1991 published his best-seller, The New World Order. So who put this agenda into place? Hell, even Eisenhower, in 1961, famously warned of the ‘military industrial complex.’
Logically it follows that the generations before the boomers are to blame, for putting into place the policy that would decades later have such a deleterious effect. Not just politics, but same also for culture, too, such as the entertainment industry and higher education. Women’s studies, postmodernism, etc. (that whole milieu of thought that can trace its origins to critical theory in the ’30s and ’40s; how far back it dates is disputable, but we can say with confidence boomers did not invent it) were introduced to US colleges in the ’60s and ’70s. The entire post-WW2 tide of liberalism–be it civil rights, LBJs ‘great society,’ gay and women’s liberation (second-wave feminism), etc.–all arouse either before boomers were born or when they were politically and culturally irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Although PNAC, founded in 1997 by boomer William Kristol , who was born in 1953, was a major contributor to the foreign policy of George W. Bush, America’s interventionist policy, that in the 2000s lead to the decades-long quagmires in the Middle East, has its roots as far back as the ’50s, but rather than terrorism being the existential threat it was communism (the Vietnam and Korean wars). Alan Greenspan, who is blamed by conservatives and liberals alike for ‘destroying the economy’ twice, is to old to be a boomer by 18 years. Nancy Pelosi and even Joe Biden are too old too. Every generation is to blame is to blame for at least something. To paraphrase a notable misanthrope, I don’t hate any generation; I hate all generations equally.