Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bill Clinton agrees with me

Bill Clinton hopped on one of my favorite hobby horses in an interview with Brian Till. Does the 42nd president "worry that you and this post-Cold War generation of leaders will be judged harshly by history"? As if...
No. I think that's a cheap trick. I mean, all of this "the greatest generation is World War II?" -- it just happens that they're the most horrible parents in human history, right?

If all of us baby boomers were so bad, then our parents were terrible; they failed. And if we were so bad, how come our kids are so great? We were hellaciously good parents.

I think it's phony as a $3 bill. I think they had a chance to win World War II and it was clear. These are much more complex things [now]. We have no idea if the World War II generation would have made the decisions they should make on climate change if they thought doing so would bring an end to their economic prosperity.
 Plainly, the head of the Clinton Foundation whiles away his evenings browsing xpostfactoid:

Generational contrasts are the refuge for those who prefer moralizing to analysis.  You cannot generalize about the moral composition of hundreds of millions of people born between arbitrarily selected dates.  When I read boomer-bashings, I always mentally reply: if those of the WWII generation were such paragons, why did the raise a generation of feckless self-indulgent screwups? Is prosperity itself inherently corrupting? If so, we'd better stop trying to grow our economy.  Further, one instance of the get-rich-quick mania that Friedman excoriates -- the dotcom boom -- was the flip side of an aspect of our economy he suggests we're losing -- rapid technological development. The tension between productive economic development and unchecked greed is hardly a recent phenomenon in American history. Another alleged moral failing of U.S. leadership --taxcut goodies leading to budget problems -- - was promulgated in the first instance by WWII-gen President Ronald Reagan -- while quintessential boomer Bill Clinton paid in political blood for rebalancing our tax and budget priorities. 
 And doubtless nodded when we dubbed boomer-bashing The moral equivalent of warmongering...

There is unseemly self-hatred in boomer-bashing, as well as an implicit recognition of what James acknowledges explicitly: that the military virtues valorized by the militarist really are worthy of admiration, if war itself is not. Boomer-bashing today is one way of dealing with the uneasy awareness that most Americans (usually including the basher) will never experience the tests of endurance, the intense camaraderie, the high-pressure problem-solving and the willingness to sacrifice undertaken by our small warrior class in Afghanistan and Iraq.  (Of course, we'll also be spared the PTSD, stressed family relations, lifelong flashbacks and other psychic wounds that afflict so many combat veterans.)
And also found himself in tuned with James Fallows' reader mail:
I guess it would be an overgeneralization to say that generalizations about generations are always a fallacy. Conditions of life change, and so behavior changes, and national character changes over time, and sometimes those changes can be more or less pegged to causes.  The Depression certainly shaped a lot of common experience, for example. But I am always very suspicious of generalizations about generations. They  are susceptible to the mother of all confirmation biases, extrapolation from one's own experience to national or global trends (though I'll admit too that are own experience is also the data we know best).  Boomer-bashing in particular always gives me hives (great essay by Hal Espen on that front here), as does what I privately call the editorialist's "we" that I associate with Anna Quindlen: "These days we all..."  "We" in such a mode may be set up to signify "we Americans" or "we 20something Chinese," but it usually means my socio-economic cohort or even  "me and my friends."  In a real sense generations don't exist: children are born every second, and the historical change that affects us all usually happens slowly.
Yada yada. I'm sure it's all been thought and said many times. In fact, I find myself wondering if I didn't catch the bug from some long-forgotten prior interview iwth the notoriously thin-skinned former boomer-in-chief himself.

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