Hating Boomers: America’s Last Acceptable Prejudice





Leonard Steinhorn is a professor of communication at American University, where he teaches politics, strategic communication, and courses on the presidency. A former political speechwriter and strategist, he has written on American politics and culture for major newspapers and magazines. Steinhorn is the author of the much debated book, The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy, and the critically-acclaimed By the Color of Our Skin: The Illusion of Integration and The Reality of Race. He appears regularly in the media and serves as the political analyst for FOX-5 News in Washington, D.C.

Reprinted from PunditWire with the kind permission of the author.

So now we can finally point the finger at those truly responsible for the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. No, it’s not the priests who actually exploited the young children entrusted to them. Nor is it the bishops themselves, many of whom looked the other way and willfully ignored the signs of dysfunction in their church.

Thanks to a new report released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, we now have a group of people singularly deserving of blame: baby boomers.

Yes, baby boomers, the new piñata for all the problems we have in society today. Or as the New York Times put it, the Church has decided to put forth a “blame Woodstock” defense.

By now we can pretty much dismiss any excuse Church leaders offer as yet another acrobatic attempt to rationalize a demon the hierarchy should have honestly addressed long ago. Displacement of blame seems to be Church practice these days.

More interesting is that the Church chose to hold the baby boom culture of the Sixties and Seventies responsible for its problems. It’s a very clever ploy not because it’s right, but because hating boomers has become the last acceptable prejudice in America – and the Church probably figures it can get a bit of a free pass in the blame game by riding this anti-boomer sentiment for all it’s worth.

Perhaps Church leaders took their cue from New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, who calls boomers a generation of “hungry locusts” whose penchant for excess and self-indulgence disrespects the sacrifice of their self-effacing parents.

Or perhaps the bishops found inspiration from Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who describes boomers as “self-centered, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, and all too often just plain selfish.

Or maybe they were reading the columnist George F. Will, who regularly bashes boomers, saying they are a generation steeped in “moral vanity” and “narcissism” and claiming that the only thing serious about the boomers is their “own self-flattering estimate of their seriousness.”

Or perhaps they picked up on the many anti-boomer headlines written by snarky journalists, as in “A generation learns that the world doesn’t revolve around it anymore” (Washington Post) or “Boomers hit new self-absorption milestone” (New York Times).

Indeed the bishops didn’t have to go far to find their boomer villain. Liberals and conservatives, left and right all seem united on this: boomers are to blame for whatever has gone wrong in America. And all the good things in our country today? According to these critics, boomers had nothing to do with them even though they like to take all the credit, which is yet another sign of their vanity and narcissism.

Last year the conservative group Citizens United produced a film, Generation Zero, blaming boomers for the Wall Street financial crisis. The film, according to Citizens United, shows “how the mindset of the baby boomers sowed the seeds of economic disaster that will be reaped by coming generations.”

Okay, so let’s hold boomers responsible for the worldwide credit crisis.

Back in the early 1980s, before the bulk of boomers started raising families, they were said to be too selfish to have kids. Then, when boomers turned out to be pretty good and selfless parents, they were accused of getting too involved in their kids’ lives.

Boomers have been accused of creating cultural chaos through moral relativism. Then, when boomers came of age and declared that bigotry of any kind was immoral in America, they were accused of being politically correct.

Boomers have been derided as Yuppies living in a state of Transcendental Acquisition even though the 1984 Newsweek Magazine article that spawned this caricature acknowledged that only about two percent of boomers fit the description. Of course the Greatest Generation had its “keeping up with the Jones” cohort and many of their Roaring Twenties parents lived lives of “conspicuous consumption,” but only boomers get tarred with this unflattering stereotype.

Today the critics point their venom at boomers simply for being alive. As a demographically huge generation that will live long because of medical advances, boomers are being pilloried in advance for eventually bankrupting America through Social Security and Medicare. Rarely are these accusations thrown at those older than boomers, who squawk every time legislators propose cuts in their cost of living adjustments.

Boomers have pretty thick skin and take all this hostility in stride. They’ve been through worse. Millions went off to fight a pointless and duplicitous war created by their elders, and millions more took all the slings and arrows from that elder generation as they protested the pointlessness and duplicity of that war. To the horror of their scolding parents, boomers willingly dated across ethnic lines and ushered in a culture in which gay did not mean closeted.

Nor do boomers really need credit for raising the most inclusive and least prejudiced generation in our nation’s history. Or for building a society unprecedented in its equal rights for minorities and women. Or for flattening hierarchies and opening up society for people to express themselves without fear and shame. Or for creating a nonprofit sector far greater in reach, scope, and impact than we have ever seen before. Or for advancing environmental awareness so that we now consider the green consequences of economic progress.

Boomers are comfortable with these accomplishments and don’t need to justify them.

The irony, of course, is that in pushing so hard to free America from its overt, covert, public, and genteel prejudices, and in stepping on so many toes in the process, boomers left themselves open as an all-purpose target of blame.

But boomers are moving into their twilight years. So if in the decades ahead there’s another sex abuse scandal or financial collapse or unforeseen misfortune, who will we blame then?


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