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Boomer Bytes #74: The Blame Game

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

The Blame Game

By Steve Canipe

I remember telling my Mom that I didn’t do it; it was my sister or my brother who did. Have any of you ever done that…maybe even when it was not the total truth? Funny huh?

On 19 April 2015, there was an article in the Charlotte Observer with the provocative headline “Blame Boomers for Political Gridlock.” This was a reprint of an article that appeared in the Kansas City Star and written by Rick Montgomery. (http://www.kansascity.com/news/government-politics/article17411765.html) Montgomery is a 1982 graduate of journalism at Iowa State so probably not a boomer himself – maybe he is pointing the finger of blame like some of us did as kids. Don’t know for sure.


The gist of the article is that we boomers, as a group, were split in the 1960s and 1970s. And it’s these splits which occurred over social issues that led and continue to lead to political gridlock. The Brookings Institute researchers (http://www.brookings.edu/) and other experts, tie these political divisions to several key events in our past: the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War protests, the 1970 shootings at Kent State University, Watergate, changes in gender roles, and for younger boomers, the Reagan Revolution.

This observation seems to be at odds with our almost monolithic view of ourselves as a group. It is instructive to remember that at Kent State – boomers were on both sides of the rifles! There were and continue to be strong feelings over race issues and these reactions are continually playing out in cities and along our borders. It was not just the older ones who were telling us to “love it or leave it” over the Viet Nam war protests, there were many of our peers who were in favor of the war or at least unwilling to protest against it.

If you look at the current average age of our Senators and Representatives, you will find that senators are 62 and 57 for members of the House. This makes them, on average, born in 1953 and 1958. But the differences in range are starker. According to Wikipedia, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_current_members_of_the_United_States_House_of_Representatives_by_age) and (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_current_United_States_Senators_by_age) “On January 3, 2015, six members were in their 80s, 41 members in their 70s, 137 in their 60s, 144 members in their 50s, 76 members in their 40s and 31 members in their 30s.” This means that except for 107 members the Congress is all boomers (about a 75% to 25% split). Seeing and living the political gridlock, it is apparent that not all boomers see things the same way.

Mike Hais, a researcher with the Brookings Institute, wrote in a report that “Idealistic generations and the dysfunction they wreak occur in cycles.” Others like Hais’ coauthor, Morley Winograd from the University of Southern California, opined that all of the country’s history is comprised of these bobbing and pitching ideas on waves of generational ages. He shares some specifics about the anti-slavery movement of the transcendental age group rising to prominence just before the Civil War.

There has been a suggestion that we boomers have been a pincushion to society since the first of us turned 13 in 1959…presaging the wild and woolly 1960s. We are being blamed for a lot of ills that occurred outside of our direct actions. These include being lambasted for not saving enough when the Great Recession wiped out the value of our 401(k)s and our willingness to take our Social Security payments that we have been promised since we started working and paying the tax.

Playing the blame game is not productive, I am afraid. While there is some discussion on blogs in the news and in other places, it seems that many are comfortable with the distortions that are occurring with wealth and distribution. In a report by Fortune magazine in January 2015 (http://fortune.com/2015/01/19/the-1-will-own-more-than-the-99-by-2016-report-says/), by the year 2016 (next year), the richest 1% will own more than the rest of the 99%! This figure seems to be at odds over the fact that the poorest Americans tend to support politicians that are implementing policies directed to helping the 1% get even more wealth.

This is the same disparity that allowed the rise of Communism in Russia in 1917. The tsars and other ruling elite controlled enormous wealth and the rest of the population were subsisting at best. Could this happen here in the now? I’ve learned over my 69 years of life to almost never say “never.” Yes I think it could and sometimes I wonder why it has not already happened.

It seems that maybe for a number of folks the social issues like birth choice, marriage equality, voting rights, immigration reform, legalizing marijuana, and similar others are more important than what used to be termed pocketbook issues. Why would a person making minimum wage not want to have a law that raises the minimum wage?

Perhaps some of these reactions to things can be laid to deeply held prejudices against whatever the issue is that is being considered. Some of the issues come from deeply help beliefs that may have a basis in religion – like birth choice and marriage equality. While we might not personally agree on these issues, I hope that we could at least understand where the other side is coming from in the particular held opinion.

My mother, when I was young, once told me not to talk with people about religion or politics. When I asked her why not, her response is that people tend to react emotionally and give knee-jerk responses. I have remembered that admonition but it is still hurtful when I am trying to find common ground to discuss sensitive issues and people disrespect my trying to be conciliatory and open-minded. The number of issues that divide us is wide and maybe growing wider on the social scale. The Gallup poling organization back in 2010 conducted a survey on social dividers (http://www.gallup.com/poll/137357/four-moral-issues-sharply-divide-americans.aspx). Maybe the numbers have shifted or maybe not. The sexual relations between same-sex couples issue differences by party were significant – Independents and Democrats had 61% thinking it was morally OK but only 35% of Republicans felt the same way. On other issues they were much closer like cloning humans – the breakdown finding cloning morally acceptable was 11%, 7%, and 8% – Democrat, Independent, and Republican respectively.

Playing the blame game, whether blaming boomers, Republicans, men, whites, etc…any of the obvious different categories that we belong to is probably not productive. In Genesis 4:9 in the story of Cain and Abel, the Lord asked a question about the missing brother – from the New International Version of the Bible “Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ ” Are we not all supposed to look after one another and be each other’s help in times of trouble. Since the Old Testament is revered by all three major religions common in the United States – Jewish, Christian, and Islam, the word to help each other could not be clearer. I read this as to not blame them as well!!

What are your thoughts on this blame game – is all the political division and upheaval due to us boomers or are we only part of the issue? Can we become our brother’s keeper and help eliminate the wealth disparity? Share your thoughts below or send me an email at boomerbytes@yahoo.com.