The generation that fought World War II is considered by many modern pundits as our “greatest generation.” Those who were born in the 1920s were the ones who grew up with the adversity of the Great Depression and came of age as America was attacked at Pearl Harbor.
But the generation they spawned upon their return from the battlefields of Europe and war throughout the Pacific has made their own impact on the American culture, turning their collective noses up at an unpopular war in Vietnam and becoming the narcissistic subject of what was termed the “me” generation. In general terms, a Baby Boomer is one born between 1946 and 1964, although the peak of the boom occurred in 1957. It took a half-century before the total number of births in a calendar year eclipsed the total of 4.3 million we had in 1957.
Yet in the area of Presidential leadership the Baby Boomers are represented only by our last three Presidents, two of whom were born at the very beginning of that era in 1946. Together, however, they represent 24 years of our history as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have served two terms apiece. One can argue whether or not they’ve had a positive impact on the country, but with the propensity of our nation of late to elect a President twice, it’s likely that if we elect a President who was born during that 18 year span in 2016 he or she will be the last of that generation to hold office. The tail end of the Boomers will be 60 by the time that election occurs, but most of them will be older than 67.
I bring this up because this election has the potential to be the same generational shift as we had in 1992 when Bill Clinton (then 46 years old) defeated the incumbent George H.W. Bush (then 68 years of age) – albeit not to that extreme of a degree since Obama is only 54. And if you recall the 1980 election as I do, there was a great deal of concern about Ronald Reagan’s advanced age – at the time of his inauguration he was just a few weeks away from his 70th birthday. Previous to Reagan the oldest President to take office was William Henry Harrison, who was 68 – and died in office a month later. So I think people became a little gunshy about electing a man of advanced age.
If you look at the ages of the remaining contenders, you’ll notice that nearly half of them are already eligible for Social Security as they have passed their 62nd birthday. While the average age of the Republican contenders is 58, it’s worth noting that for the Democrats it’s nearly 65, with Martin O’Malley dragging the average out of the 70s. All three Democrats fall within the Baby Boomer range.
On the other hand, the top three Republican contenders are the two youngest in the group (Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio) trailing the oldest Republican running, Donald Trump. I had no idea Trump was the oldest until I looked it up but he is 69 now and would be 70 by inauguration day, making him the oldest President to take office. So where are the people concerned with his health and advanced age? (Hillary Clinton would be just a few months younger than Reagan was if she won, while Bernie Sanders would shatter the age record as he is already 74.)
While I identify more readily with the Generation X that followed the Boomers, by birth year I’m lumped in with them. By being a few years younger than the peak of our generation, those born in the early-to-mid 1960s like myself have always dealt with the hand-me-downs we received, and they were often worse for the wear. (Having a brother who was two years older this was literally true in my case.) So it is with America, which has seen the decline in morality brought to us by the Clintons, the questionable attempts at nation-building we tried under George W. Bush, and the trainwreck of “if you like your plan, you can keep it” Obamacare under its namesake. If you ask the question, “are you better off than you were 24 years ago?” the number of people who say no might be shockingly high.
Perhaps it’s time for the Boomers to leave the stage, but I’m sure they’ll have to dragged off kicking and screaming because it will always and forever be about them.