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Why Baby Boomer Bashing Is All the Rage for Republicans These Days

Ageism is on the rise in GOP talking points.

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That disenchantment is emerging in voting numbers. In 2008, Barack Obama won the 18-29 vote by 34 points. But in 2012, as disappointment with his performance rose, Obama’s edge among these voters dropped to 23 percent. The erosion of support wasn’t lost on Republicans. Like Latinos, the millennials are considered up for grabs in 2016.

Although the feeling of betrayal is understandable, there is something regressive and childlike about ascribing so much power to your parents. Viewing history through the lens of a generation has its limits. Idealists are always flawed, and every generation has its complement of hustlers, toadies and arrivistes. Historical forces larger than the individual determine winners and losers: in this case, globalization, technology, and America’s rise and fall as an imperial power.

What few millennials seem to realize is that libertarian hero Ronald Reagan’s “transformative” presidency began the decline of civil society in the U.S. Perhaps that’s too much history for an ahistorical generation. What Reagan, a farm boy turned Southern Californian, “transformed” was the traditional anti-government bias of the American West into a social movement. By defunding schools, mental health services and health care, all the things that make people feel good about government, the Reagan administration laid the groundwork not only for today’s disaffection with the rule of law, but, in a worst-case scenario, for a failed state.

And, yes, it is scary that Obama found this impressive. But it is hardly the work of the baby boomers, who, other than the egregious Peggy Noonan, roundly despised Reagan. It is also worth noting that the Republicans bashing Hillary Clinton’s generation are hardly riding a skateboard to work. McConnell is 71, and Stevens, a Gatsby-like character who is cagey about details of his past, was born sometime around 1954. Luntz, a mere stripling, was born in 1962, at the tail end of the baby boom.

But it’s not surprising that both the Republicans and Hillary Clinton, who recently opened a Twitter account, are courting younger voters. The millennial generation is, in fact, the result of a second baby boom. Millennials are the second-largest age demographic group in the U.S. and share many of the boomer’s dilemmas. By placing America’s current woes at the boomer doorstep, Luntz and the GOP (note: stands for Grand Old Party) are adopting the time-honored tactic of divide and conquer.

But Rand Paul libertarianism is merely the newest iteration of the cargo cult mentality described by Frank in “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Cultural icons and politicians might talk about abortion and religion, Frank wrote, but their real agenda was smashing the welfare state, reducing the tax burden on corporations and the wealthy, and generally bringing America’s wealth distribution back to the 19th century. The great irony is that the backlash against government was “a working-class movement that has done incalculable, historic harm to working-class people.”

It’s understandable that if you grew up with Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck fulminating on your TV and you don’t read a lot, your historical perspective on big government might be lacking. But if there’s one thing the millennials understand, it’s that, in the words of baby boomer Cyndi Lauper,  money changes everything. By the time the millennials grew out of diapers, the relative security of American life in the 1960s and 1970s had been replaced by burgeoning economic anxieties. More than half of millennials report feeling anxious, and 65 percent said “their lives are full of uncertainty.” In the unimaginable event that they retire, they’re not sanguine about pulling down those Social Security payments. Basically, one millennial wrote on the website  Jezebel, they’re anticipating a future of living with their parents and managing a frozen banana stand.

 
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