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Baby Boomers hoped to die before they got old. They lied. And now they’re dragging the whole country down.

Wednesday, May 2 2007

Page 5 of 5

That's fine so far as it goes. The risk lies in self-confidence mutating into narcissism, Twenge contends, a trait that tends to lead to higher rates of infidelity, less empathy for others, and an inability to cope with rejection. Last year, almost 90 percent of the 140 violent attacks on homeless people across the country were committed by young men age 25 and under. The New York Times reported last month that rising incivility in public discourse among young people arcs back to how they were raised. As one psychologist told the paper, "The Baby Boomers were self-centered and had self-centered children because they thought, "Everything is for me and my child.' Now these under-30s have grown up and just assume what was cute for their parents is now cute to everybody else."

Twenge echoes the appraisal. Told throughout childhood that they were unique, handed a trophy just for showing up to a ballgame, given grades that reflected parental hectoring of teachers more than the work's quality — Millennials are ego incarnate. They are Boomers redux, with hip-huggers and flip-flops instead of bell bottoms and clogs.

Boomers confess to their excessive doting, with one consistent caveat, Twenge says. "They always say, 'My kid isn't narcissistic.'" But for a generation forever in denial, a reap-what-you-sow moment may arrive within the next quarter-century.

As Millennials age and move into the halls of political influence, they will confront the debt load bestowed by their parents, who refused to trim entitlement benefits after the turn of the 21st century. The new powerbrokers may recall that their parents spent themselves into near bankruptcy to mollify the must-have impulses of their children. On the other hand, faced with an unpleasant political choice between the welfare of their children and their elders, Millennials may decide to put the kids first — unlike their parents did.

"There could be a major slapdown of Boomers [by Millennials] at some point," Strauss says, "and if that happens, Boomers will know why."

The Boomer Century: 1946-2046, the PBS program that aired a few weeks ago, produced a companion book. Its subtitle, How America's Most Influential Generation Changed Everything, invites a rejoinder: And Not for the Better.

More than other generations, Boomers feel compelled to inflate their legacy, a collective chest-thumping that belies their insecurity about what they wrought. They want to believe that without their daring to light up, get laid, and pass out, America would still wallow in the benighted '50s. The Age of Aquarius transformed history and transcended time ... in their own mind.

But as Males says, "A lot of this celebrating of the past seems like more than nostalgia. It's like trying to turn the past into some super-morally conscious era, and using that to condemn subsequent generations."

Boomers were blessed to be born into a country of bountiful prosperity, when opportunity presented low-hanging fruit. With their numbers, they couldn't help change America. Yet they have handed down a divided, divisive culture that holds far less promise than the one they inherited, selling their ideals for a summer home in the Hamptons.

Not that they would utter a mea culpa. As noted Boomer and Spinal Tap frontman David St. Hubbins once observed, "I'm sure I'd feel much worse if I weren't under such heavy sedation." For too long, Boomers have lived trapped inside their own hallucination.

About The Author

Martin Kuz


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