My So-Called Generation

Tucker Carlson
Round One - August 11, 1999

Ted Halstead lists a number of attitudes he says unite members of Generation X. Let me add one more: contempt for the generation that preceded them. Is there a single person in America between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-four who can bear to listen to even one more Baby Boomer talk about himself? About his 401K Plan, or where he was when JFK was shot, or how Vietnam defined his generation, or how his kitchen/family room renovation is going? Is there anyone under thirty-five who hasn't beheld the awesome, reality-resistant solipsism of the Baby Boomers and felt like throwing up? Probably not. Whatever else it is, the Baby Boom is likely the most self-involved generational cohort in human history. Certainly it's the most annoying.

From Post & Riposte:

"As a generation we are over contextualized, truly stuffed with media, and in a related way, it seems that the concern of this panel is focused on a kind of recontextualizing historiological surgery, which wants (biting and scratching at 'boomers' with the limp pathos of a Mike Meyers sound bite) to be in charge of our own image. 'It's mine!' we meow with a lisp into a mirror. Meanwhile, campaign reform is ignored, greenhouse effect or no the automobile has devastated our landscape, and scandal urinates all over our press machines.... The stupid name 'Gen X' will follow us everywhere we go. It can remain empty ... or it can be the GOP's worst nightmare, but I think we have to drop the Coupland bullshit and really, individually participate. It is ownership that makes individuality mean anything, not names, parties, parents or reputations. We need to step out of our own mask and begin to challenge with personal responsibility what is essentially, still, aristocratic OZ."
--Travis Culley, "Gen X Politics?" (08/06)

"We Generation X-ers do not get involved in government because we know, unlike our predecessors, that our vote truly does not matter. Money will decide who becomes the next president; money will decide which policies make it through the next four years of Congressional debate; and money will be the deciding factor on nearly all important steps that this country takes for however long we last."
--Aaron Reneker, "Gen X Politics?" (08/02)

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I was born in 1969, and even at my lowest I've always felt superior to the Baby Boomers. Now along comes Ted Halstead to shake my faith. Halstead has made a convincing case that my own generation is every bit as grating and silly. Let's start with his core point, that members of Generation X are disengaged from politics and public life not because they're lazy or shallow or distracted by rock climbing and Internet IPOs, but because -- echoes of the Baby Boom here -- The System is arrayed against them. Generation X, Halstead tells us, is in tough shape, barely holding on, and far too preoccupied with day-to-day survival to learn about the issues, or even to vote. As he puts it, "Xers are facing a particularly acute economic insecurity, which leads them to turn inward and pursue material well-being above all else."

In a country this rich, it takes a counter-intuitive sensibility to write such a sentence, and I admire Halstead's brass. (Over the years, I've had a couple of editors who favored the counter-intuitive approach; they were always commissioning stories on how global warming will actually help the world's farmers, or how country music is cool.) But let's not even argue that point. Let's ignore the fact that Generation X has more, consumes more, and lives more opulently than any generation anywhere ever. Instead, let's assume that Halstead is right: Generation X is gripped with panic over its economic future. That still doesn't account for Generation X's actual behavior, at least as it is described by Halstead.

Consider Halstead's observation that Generation X is deeply in debt. In addition to the national debt, with which they will be saddled probably for decades, many members of Generation X have large college loans to pay off. And yet, Halstead points out, at least 60 percent of them have chosen to take on additional, high-interest credit-card debt. Is this the behavior of a group that considers itself on the brink, a late payment away from financial ruin? Of course not. People who are genuinely worried about the economic End Times avoid debt. They save as much as possible, buy insurance, eschew unnecessary purchases, and live on tight budgets. It's not the children of the Depression who are uninsured and running up the monster Visa bills. It's the children of the prosperous eighties and nineties, the ones who grew up with the expectation of affluence and under the shield of social-service programs and lenient bankruptcy laws. Generation X is in debt precisely because it isn't worried about the future.

And that's also why it doesn't vote. Halstead repeatedly bemoans Generation X's lack of involvement in politics. (Why most people ought to have political opinions, and act on them, is never explained, simply assumed.) As a solution, Halstead suggests replacing our "archaic electoral process" with "a modern multiparty system." With a few more parties, he explains, "politics might become exciting enough to draw in disenchanted Xers."

Let's hope not. Exciting politics almost always proves harmful to ordinary people. Peru has exciting politics. So does Sierra Leone. America, in 1999, does not. It's a measure of the country's current tranquillity and prosperity that the average member of Generation X can't be bothered to learn much about how the government works.

Clearly Ted Halstead can't. Throughout the piece, Halstead complains that Generation X has been duped and ignored by the political system. The Republican and Democratic Parties, Halstead writes, may seem at odds with one another, but in fact they are ideologically indistinguishable, united in an unholy pact to stymie human progress. Sound like a sinister conspiracy? According to Halstead, it is: "Democrats and Republicans, despite an appearance of perpetual partisan infighting, collude to favor upper-income constituencies and to prevent a range of issues (including campaign-finance reform) from being acted on."

Russ Feingold and Mitch McConnell secretly agree on campaign-finance reform? Their stark, long-standing ideological differences are merely a charade, a clever ruse designed to please their "upper-income" masters? It's quite a theory. Happily, most of Generation X will never hear it. They're too preoccupied.

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Tucker CarlsonTucker Carlson writes for Talk and The Weekly Standard. His profile of George W. Bush appeared in Talk's premiere issue.

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