The baby-boomer generation made the world more fun but not necessarily better, says author and humorist P.J. O’Rourke, who added that the boomers had one major skill: The ability to B.S. their way through anything.
The generation defined as those born between 1946-1964 still comprises 25 percent of the U.S. population. Prompted by the youngest of the baby-boomer generation turning 50 years old this year, O’Rourke is the author of the new book, “The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way, And It wasn’t my Fault and I’ll never Do It Again.”
He says there are certainly good and bad legacies for the generation that largely embraced illegal drugs, free love, campus protests and radical politics.
“It is definitely a nicer, kinder world,” he said. “We are the generation that wanted to give the world a hug and a drug, and we want people to like us, and we want to like other people. We’re not about to belong to great, big, hateful organizations like the communists or the Nazis and trying to kill a bunch of people.
“The negative heritage from the baby boom is an excessive self-involvement. There’s no doubt that we were spoiled kids and that we ended up acting like spoiled kids. And we’re still spoiled kids, even though we’re 50 and up.”
Listen to Greg Corombos’ interview with P.J. O’Rourke:
In the book, O’Rourke outlines some paradoxical traits of baby boomers, including the notion that they know everything but that their greatest skill is being able to B.S. their way through just about anything. He explained how both concepts are true and how it impact our national leadership today.
“When you’re convinced you know everything, it lends an extra power to your B.S. Without making any political aspersions or judgments here, I think that the most baby boom of our three baby-boom presidents clearly had to be Bill Clinton, who really had the B.S. thing figured out,” O’Rourke said. “If you’re looking at the political deadlock in Washington, what you’re really looking at is the baby-boom generation in political power, and we would much rather yell at each other than do something.
“I put the date on when we took charge when ‘Animal House’ was released (1978). And if you look in Congress today, it’s pretty much full of Sen. Blutarsky, isn’t it?” he said.
O’Rourke also pointed out that Social Security and Medicare already account for 35 percent of federal spending, and over the next couple of decades, the aging baby boomers will require half the federal budget to be spent on those programs alone. He said his generation cannot be blamed for the creation of those programs, but it is on the hook for not doing anything to reform them and combat massive deficits.
“While we may be beneficiaries of this and too selfish to give up the benefits, as we so often say it wasn’t our fault,” said O’Rourke. “Did we show the kind of political will that would have fixed these things?
Medicare is a difficult fix, Social Security somewhat less difficult.
Did we show that political will? No, because we were too busy B.S.’ing.”
While the baby boomers were known for their liberal activism in the 1960s and 1970s, voting patterns within the generation have leveled off quite a bit as those Americans matured. O’Rourke said reality has a way of changing perspectives.
“We were the guinea pigs in this experiment that you can just do anything you want. You can do anything you want sexually. You can do anything you want with drugs. You can do anything you want, period. By the time the late ’70s and early ’80s rolled around, it became evident that, no, you can’t. There are consequences to actions. I think we did a great favor to all generations coming after us by being the guinea pigs, by being the experiment, by trying to just let it all hang out. Of course, the result was drug overdoses and sexually transmitted diseases and marriage breakdowns and single children. A lot of that is still with us, but I don’t think that there’s anybody left in the United States who believes those things are good things,” O’Rourke said.
The current millennial generation is often compared to the baby boomers because of their liberalism and activism in movements like Occupy Wall Street. O’Rourke said he’s far more impressed with today’s young adults than with his generation at their age.
“When I talk to younger people, yeah they get a lot of piercings and tattoos and funny little beards, but they are a much more sensible generation than my generation was,” he said. “I think they learned from our example. It wasn’t a positive example, but it was an example.”