Baby Boomers finally elect one of their own

DAN RODRICKS

November 05, 1992|By DAN RODRICKS

It must be the weight of the national debt and the latest figures on the budget deficit -- all those charts and graphs Pappy Perot pulled out on national television -- that prohibits grandiose reaction to Bill Clinton's election. So let's keep this sober, and lay off the purple stuff.

That's the way voters want it. We don't want to be fooled anymore. We want to get down to business. And so we went for change. We elected a couple of serious, bright young men to be president and vice president. And not just any old young men -- Baby Boomers.

Clinton is the first Boomer president. His vice president is a Boomer, too. Fellow Boomers, they are us!

Actually, Bill Clinton and Al Gore are not like all of us -- not like my red-eyed college roommates, not like Ben & Jerry, not even like Wally and the Beave. They are more like the student council president and vice president from Hubba Bubba High, so earnest it almost makes you sick.

I take the election of Clinton-Gore as a genuine sign of maturity for a generation that doesn't quite trust itself. Come January, we will no longer have a kindly, old father figure in the White House. This is full-metal adulthood.

For sure, Baby Boomers have been "adults" for years, roaming through the real world, "finding ourselves," establishing careers, living, working, making babies, buying houses, buying cars, doing that American thing. Some Baby Boomers are approaching middle-age. They have been feeling the Big Chill.

But Tuesday was a big day for us. To borrow a phrase at the risk of conjuring up Camelot and getting grandiose, a torch has been passed to a new generation.

Of course, more than half of all voters, assumedly many of them Baby Boomers, opted to go with older men, George Bush and Ross Perot.

But Clinton is the Man, and his age -- 46 -- puts him just inside the age parameter for Baby Boomers.

If you were born between 1946 and 1964, you are considered a Boomer, a member of the largest generation in the nation's history, the sons and daughters of men and women who survived the Depression and World War II and built the urban-suburban America we know today. If you are in that age group and voted for Clinton, congratulations. You have cracked the psychological dependence of voting for Dad for president. The timing for this seems about right.

Our parents gave so much. Their president was Franklin Delano Roosevelt; with him as their leader, they saved the country and the world. They came out of the war and defined a new America. And now the Baby Boom generation stands to inherit a fabulous heritage -- financial, political and cultural.

But it's all threatened by the nation's debts and domestic disorder. Our inheritance includes huge bills. Ronald Reagan, the ultimate father figure, gave the nation a giant keg party. "We wanted him to fool us," a pundit said. The nation woke up with a multitrillion-dollar hangover, and it's our generation -- not Reagan's -- that will be expected to foot the bill.

And it will be our kids who foot the bill if we don't.

The American people know this. George Bush was correct when he said America was not "coming apart at the seams." But people know something is wrong. Too much debt. Too much crime. Too much racial division. Too many social problems. Too many environmental hazards. Not enough future-thinking economic policy. Not enough jobs.

We picked a new president because George Bush was out of touch with a sober America that knew the party was over.

Now we turn to Bill Clinton to clean up the mess.

"Can you trust him?" Bush asked throughout the campaign, which was a way of saying this young, ambitious, intelligent, good-looking guy from Little Rock was a Baby Boomer, a member of that sorry pack of old hippies who had protested the Vietnam War, smoked dope, fried its brains on rock music, slept around during the Sexual Revolution, questioned authority and shown general scorn for capitalist democracy. Bush was reaching out to older voters, telling them they couldn't trust a draft-dodger, and he was reaching out to Baby Boomers, warning them not to elect one of their own.

But we did it, anyway. It was a big step. It was about time.

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