Paying boomers to kill themselves is cheaper than letting them retire

April 01, 2007|By Diane Scharper | Diane Scharper,Special to the Sun

Boomsday

By Christopher Buckley

Twelve, an imprint of Warner Books / 318 pages / $24.99

Imagine this: For the first time in history, the Japanese refuse to finance the U.S. government debt. As a result, the stock market plunges. Prices soar. Inflation runs at 18 percent. The U.S. Treasury furiously prints dollars, while the dollar loses 40 percent of its value. The Federal Reserve announces another increase in its prime rate, to 14 percent. Congress adamantly refuses to cut federal spending, so the year's deficit is now projected at $1.1 trillion. And the baby boomers are set to retire.

What to do? Christopher Buckley suggests an answer in his latest novel, Boomsday. The title refers to the date when the first of the 77 million boomers will leave the work force and begin to draw Social Security. A political and social satire, the story holds nothing sacred as Buckley (winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor) artfully uses every type of humor - from high comedy to low comedy to wit and obscenity - to skewer contemporary American life.

A former speechwriter for George H.W. Bush, as well as a Roman Catholic, Buckley has insider knowledge of the political and religious scene. He uses both to tell this multi-plotted tale of pettiness, bureaucracy, pomposity and self-righteousness pitted against the simple truth - sort of.

Set in Washington, with its passion for spin, the novel features 30-year-old Cassandra (Cass) Devine a.k.a. Joan of Dark, Buckley's heroine, who thinks she knows how to solve the current economic mess.

Loosely based on Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, Cass' solution is for boomers to commit suicide when they reach age 65 or 70. In return, the government would eliminate their estate taxes and provide a two-week, all-expenses-paid "farewell honeymoon."

As Cass sees it, boomers constitute the "Ungreatest Generation." Unlike their parents, they did not fight in World War II, and they did not suffer through the Great Depression. Instead, they dodged the draft, snorted cocaine and made self-indulgence a virtue. Now, they are planning long retirements thanks to their efforts to stay fit by working out, drinking pomegranate juice and not smoking. Cass' Generation W, short for Generation Whatever (named for one of their preferred expressions), is fed up.

The ripple-effect plot begins as Cass, a partner in Tucker Strategic Communications, a Washington PR firm (formerly affiliated with Nick Naylor of Buckley's earlier satire, Thank You for Smoking), learns that the Senate has voted for another Social Security payroll tax "augmentation" to fund the boomers' retirement. Soon, Cass uses her blog to call for a tax revolt.

The repercussions are far-reaching, even far-fetched, as Cass becomes involved with a Massachusetts congressman, later senator, named Randolph Jepperson - a.k.a. Randy, with a nod to his former girlfriend, the Tegucigalpa Tamale. Randy, whose ancestor had connections to Thomas Jefferson (both men bought slaves from the same dealer), is an opportunist and a client of Tucker Communications. When he decides to run for U.S. president, Randy takes up Cass' cause of boomer mass suicide.

Calling his proposal the Voluntary Transitioning Bill, Randy suggests that the boomer generation transition itself into the next world. "Thanks to advances made by my generation," he says, people can send e-mails, type on laptop computers, participate in chat rooms, and "and find decent coffee on practically every street corner." Now, it's time to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Not everyone agrees with Randy, including Riley Peacham, the president of the United States, a salty-mouthed conservative who, in the word "transition," recognizes a weasel.

On the eve of Peacham's (as in "impeach him") re-election, the economy is in shambles. The country is embroiled in six wars; Mexico has declared a "destino manifesto" policy of free emigration; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police harass American truckers - on the American side.

Gideon Payne adds a twist to Peacham's troubles. Southern Baptist televangelist, majority owner of Elderhaven Corporation, a network of retirement homes and outspoken right-to-lifer, Payne wants Peacham to build a Mall memorial to the 43 million fetuses aborted since Roe v. Wade in exchange for the vote of the religious right. When Peacham hesitates, Payne declares his candidacy for president.

Payne's sidekick is Monsignor Montefeltro, with the two clergymen and their drunken escapades forming a hilarious subplot - at times even funnier than the main plot. Moreover, Buckley's story of the two holier-than-thou money-grubbers offers a no-holds-barred look at religious hypocrisy.

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