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Talkin’ ‘Bout Our G-G-Generation

According to such ancien regime media as The Washington Post and The New York Times, the latest catchphrase among the young folks is “OK, boomer.” Apparently that’s what the millennials or post-millennials or Generation Z or whatever you want to call these raw-boned and tattooed and nose-ringed ragamuffins are sarcastically saying whenever some old fogy dispenses his seasoned “baby boom generation” advice.
Although we’re technically “baby boomers” ourselves, we can hardly blame these young punks for their insolence. We arrived at the very end of the post-World War II “baby boom,” and were among the first of the self-proclaimed young “punks” who were just as cynical about the hippy-dippy counter-culture revolution as we were about the culture it was revolting against. The date of one’s birth somehow permanently affixes a certain worldview for the rest of one’s life, and we arrived at an unusually discombobulating moment of cataclysmic change.
We started reading the newspapers and watching the evening news and eavesdropping on adult conversations at an early age, and it was all full of a bloody war and bloody anti-war protests and civil right marches and church bombings, and women were burning bras outside the Miss America pageant and some people called homosexuals were rioting outside a New York City bar, among other daily outrages. Even for the most precocious child it was hard to make sense of, as was the decidedly different fare suddenly on offer at the local movie theater and on the FM radio dial.
There was a lot about it we liked. We wanted peace with honor in Vietnam, and still believe it could have been achieved and spared South Vietnam from communism if the Watergate scandal hadn’t emaciated the Republican party, but we shared the hippies’ desire for peace. The negroes, as they were once known, were quite right to demand their equal rights under the law and proper respect from the broader culture, no matter how contentious that has often been. The womenfolk also had some reasonable complaints, even according to our fiercely Church of Christ Mom, who insisted on a respectful code of conduct toward women. At the time we didn’t know much about homosexuals, but in retrospect we can understand why the queers in New York were rioting outside that bar. A lot of the rock ‘n’ roll music was irresistible to our youthful ears, and still sounds good after so many years of listening to the great jazz and country and popular artists of the 20th century, and a lot of those disturbing ’60s and ’70s movies still hold up well.
Even so, we want to keep our place in the old world we born into. The post World War II global order that the “greatest generation” imposed seemed to work well enough in the long run, and still strikes us as useful. So far as we can tell fairly regulated capitalism is the most productive economic scheme mankind has come up with so far, and makes more sense than what the self-described socialists of the current Democratic party are peddling. Our old-fashioned Church of Christ Mom’s notions of how a gentleman should treat a lady should should satisfy even the most feminist sensibility of the #MeToo moment. As far as we’re concerned race relations would go easier if people were only more polite to one another, and we miss the days when someone’s sexual predilections were nobody else’s business.
By happenstance we spent much of Thursday with some even older fogies than ourselves, though, and were reminded how the “Generation Gap” of our youth still persists. Our favorite aunt was in town to visit her sister and brother-in-law, along with her excellent husband and our beloved uncle, and naturally politics came up. While the wives were doing some woman thing or another our Dad and Uncle were both yearning for the good old days of President Harry Truman and expressing amazement that the Democrats were even considering nominating an admitted homosexual for president, not to mention all that high-tax socialism they were peddling, and over an excellent dinner at the folks’ retirement home both couples agreed that the damned Democrats were out to get President Donald Trump for no good reason.
Our dinner companions were among the very finest people know, each having been born in the Great Depression and raising themselves into prosperous and honorable and respectable lives, but with all due respect, having been born a few decades later we saw a lot of things differently. We’ll go along with the old-fashioned idea that marriage should ideally be between a man and a woman, no matter how that might annoy our gay and younger friends, but not the newfangled idea that marriage is between a man and three women and a a porn star and Playboy playmate, as Trump insists. We don’t want a socialist president, but only because we don’t want any president telling Harley-Davidson where to makes its motorcycles, as Trump has done. The greatest thing Truman ever did from our historical perspective was to lay the blueprint for the mostly peaceful and prosperous post-War world order, carried out so well by President Dwight Eisenhower and more or less maintained until recently.
The even older fogies and the far younger punks probably don’t share our perspective on this impeachment matter, either. Our parents and aunts and uncles were all preoccupied with making an honorable and respectable living when the Watergate scandal unfolded, but we were insolent young junior high punks with nothing better to do all summer than watching it play out on live television, and unlike our elders we weren’t at all surprised when the facts piled up so high even the most senior Republicans forced President Richard Nixon to resign. This time around the damning facts of presidential misconduct seem to be piling up just as high agains the sitting president, and even if a majority of Republicans and our most respected elders are fine with it we do not approve.
Which is not to say we want anything to do with these tattooed and nose-ringed ragamuffins we run into at the hipster dives and their outright socialist and open-borders and electronic music and free love poppycock. At this point in our postlapsarian and post-modern ives we put no faith in princes, only in the most time tried and true principles that have lasted over the centuries and millennia, and from our cynical seat on the sidelines between generations the old standards seem hard to maintain. Things have gone so far so good during our 60 years, though, and as lonely as we are we’ll hold out hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

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A Brief History Lesson for the Young Democratic Whippersnappers on the Other Side of the Generation Gap

Ryan Grim strikes us as another one of those wild-eyed liberals looking to take over the Democrat party, and the sort of revisionist young whippersnapper who still calls President Ronald Reagan “a C-list actor,” but we think his op-ed piece in Sunday’s Washington Post correctly identifies the current fissure among the Democrats as a generation gap.
So far as we can tell Grim is a bit too young remember the late ’60s and early ’70s when the hippies and the hard hats were fighting it out on the streets and “generation gap” was a familiar part of the political lexicon, but he’s familiar enough with Reagan’s landslide victories and the Republican party’s ascendancy in the ’80s to understand why some Democrats are still spooked by it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and front-running Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden are all aged enough to remember how President Richard Nixon a landslide over the hippie favorite Democratic nominee Sen. George McGovern in ’72 despite an increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam. They remember that the carefully centrist President Jimmy Carter won office in ’76 only because of the Watergate scandal, but was decisively ousted four years later by Reagan, who won a record 49 states in his reelection bid.
They also well remember how many of their longstanding congressional colleagues were voted out along the way. Such liberal lions as McGovern and Sen. Frank Church and Birch Bayh and the most senior Sen. Warren Magnuson from the New Deal era were voted out during the ’70s, and the likes of wild-eyed conservative Rep. Newt Gingrich were voted in. Reagan won a third term of sorts when his Vice President George H.W. Bush, and any Democrat old enough to remember that still shudders at the thought. President Bill Clinton ended the Republicans’ 12-year White House reign in 92′ and won reelection in ’96, but he ran as a centrist and won by mere pluralities with considerable help from nutcase third-party populist candidate Ross Perot peeling off conservative votes. In ’94 the Republicans even took the House of Representatives after 40 years of Democratic control, a result of Clinton offending the public with such divisive ideas as allowing gays to serve in the military and the government taking a greater role in the health care system, but Clinton won reelection mostly because he and Gingrich had come up with a rare balanced budget and revived the Reagan economic expansion after a short and mild recession.
Republican President George W. Bush succeeded Clinton with a plurality and razor-then electoral majority and then won reelection with a slight majority of the popular, which drove all the Democrats crazy, even though the increasingly wild-eyed conservatives in the Republican party found both Bushes far too centrist for their tastes. President Barack Obama succeeded the second Bush and then easily won reelection, which drove all the Republicans crazy even if the younger of the increasingly wild-eyed Democrats now consider Obama far too centrist for their tastes. All of which explains why such liberal but seasoned septuagenarians as Pelosi and Schumer and Biden are reluctant to veer too far left of the center.
Much younger and less experienced and better-looking and more wild-eyed Democrats as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker now have considerable sway in the Democratic party, and although the aging self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and ripened Massachusetts Sen. Warren are on their side Grim seems correct in surmising that a generation gap will be the story of the Democrats’ upcoming presidential primaries. Grim apparently believes that youthful idealism and its resulting recklessness will eventually overwhelm old age’s hard-earned experience and its resulting caution, and he seems to wish for it, and although we hope he’s wrong we worry he might be right.
At this point in our late middle age we must admit, however begrudgingly, that a lot has changed since Nixon won a landslide reelection but lost a popular culture back in ’72, and that things have changed far even more rapidly ever since. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” that allowed homosexuals to serve in the military so long as they remained closeted cost Clinton the House back in ’94, but it seems quaint in this age of constitutionally guaranteed same-sex marriage. The government intrusion into health care that Clinton’s wife proposed was less ambitious than what Obama wound up getting passed, and lately it polls well, and the Republicans couldn’t come with any alternative they could pass even when they held the White House and both chambers of Congress, so the crazy ideas that these young Democrats are proposing will have some appeal to a significant portion of the population. “Socialism” is no longer the damning term of opprobrium that it was during most of our lives, although it still should be, as far as we’re still concerned, and will probably get a lot more votes than Eugene Debs ever did back in a more sensible era of America.
Which is a shame, especially given the currently wild-eyed state of the Republican party in the era of President Donald Trump. It’s not the admirably wild-eyed conservatism of the Republican party that opposed the New Deal programs President Franklin Roosevelt wrought during his party’s six-decades dominance of American politics, nor is it the centrist and internationalist Republicanism of President Dwight Eisenhower that ended that long reign. It’s not the small government and free markets conservatism of Republican nominee Sen. Barry Goldwater, who lost by a landslide in ’64. Trump has the same tough-talking anti-hippie and pro-law-and-order rhetoric that Nixon won with in ’68, but Nixon won reelection after establishing the Environmental Protection Agency that Trump rails against and abandoning the Gold Standard monetary policy that Trump’s Federal Reserve Board appointees want to reinstate, and Trump has made his disdain Republican nominee back to Reagan quite clear.
Despite a pretty good economy America is adding the same trillion or so to the national debt that Obama was racking up in the wake of a deep and long lasting recession, The Repubicans’ big tax cut bill went mainly to the rich while the poor are probably paying even more for Trump’s tariffs every time they go to Wal-Mart. As bad as Obama was Trump has done even more to buddy up to dictatorships while undermining our the post-World War II military and trading alliances that Eisenhower and both Republican and Democratic presidents wisely established. We also note that his promise of proposing such a wonderful health care policy that your head will spin has not yet been kept.
On the other hand, Trump has outraged those damned Democrats even more than Nixon or Reagan or either of the Bushes ever did, and the more wild-eyed Republicans seem satisfied with that. He’s threatened governmental retribution against the free press and promised to lock up his political opponents, enforced our border laws with extreme cruelty and questioned the legitimacy of any federal judges of Latino heritage, has kinder words for the leaders of Russia and North Korea than he can must for our North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners, and is even coarser than Nixon ever was in his “twitter” denunciations of the damned hippies.
As much as the die-hard fans love it, it’s not at all the conservatism and Republican party we signed up with. With ur old-school sensibilities we’re free press absolutists, and we worry how that Third World “lock ’em up” stuff might play out if the damned Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress yet again. We have nothing against Latino citizens and legal immigrants, and rather enjoy their music and food and construction and road-paving efforts and occasional judicial opinions. We prefer our classically liberal democratic allies to the authoritarian populists popping up around the world, and by now we’re friends with a lot of dope-smoking hippies, and our hard=hat friends are also taking atoke  or two.
Which is not to say that we agree about anything with anyone on the left. Even the aged and relatively wised-up Democrats toward the center have always been too far left for our centrist tastes, and Grim’s favored youngsters strike us as at least as crazy as Trump.
There’s always some hope that the upcoming congressional impeachment investigations will result in some deus ex machina that delivers the Republican party some nominee other than Trump, and that the Democrats won’t go full-blown socialist. We can’t envision any scenario where the budget gets balanced, or any sort of budget actually gets passed and signed into law, or health care becomes universal and inexpensive, or all the ethnic and sexual groups learn to love another, but we hold out hope the center will hold and the republic will somehow persist.
When we were born Eisenhower had reconciled the Republicans with Social Security and most of the rest of Roosevelt’s New Deal,  and until recently the Democrats have only arguing about how much to tax the free markets that Goldwater and Reagan had championed, everyone more or less agreed on the post-war world order that Presidents Truman and Eisenhower and Kennedy and Nixon had sustained, and for the most part it worked out well enough. At this point in our late middle age we believe the sole purpose of the Democratic party is to keep the damned Republicans from imposing their worst ideas on a great nation, and that the Republicans exist solely to save the country from the Democrats dumbest ideas.
For now both parties are seized by a wild-eyed youthful idealism, which we’ve noticed from our reading of history is the most destructive force on the planet, but old age and experience and its resulting caution still stand a fighting chance. We’ll probably wind up casting another futile protest vote on some write-in candidate, but hope the rest of the country chooses as wisely as possible, given the circumstances..

— Bud Norman

Two Obituaries for the ’60s

There were more than the usual number of famous names in Monday’s obituaries, including a comedian who used to crack us up and the lead singer for a band that some of our friends can’t believe we don’t remember, but the ones that grabbed our attention were for Bobby Vee and Tom Hayden. The juxtaposition of the clean-cut teen idol with the smooth pop sound and the unkempt activist with the radical agenda was jarring, as they represent the cultural extremes of the 1960’s, and their almost simultaneous passings are a reminder that the influence of that turbulent decade still hasn’t quite come to an end.
Born as Robert Thomas Velline in Fargo, North Dakota, Bobby Vee came right out of the rock ‘n’ roll craze of the ’50s, with his big break coming when he and his garage band The Shadows filled in for Buddy Holly and the Crickets at the nearby Moorhead, Minnesota, stop on the Winter Dance Party tour after Holly’s death in a plane crash. That crash not only ended Holly’s legendary career but also the promising 16-year-old Richie Valens’, in the same year when Elvis Presley was drafted and Chuck Berry was sent to prison on a Mann Act violation and Jerry Lee Lewis’s career was derailed by the outrage over him marrying an underage cousin while he was married to someone else, a sex scandal trifecta that even The Rolling Stones haven’t achieved, and after that the greasier and scarier sorts of rock ‘n’ roll stars were briefly supplanted by such wholesomely handsome and well-groomed and suit-and-tie wearing singers such as Bobby Vee.
Vee’s first big hit was a strikingly Holly-esque tune called “Suzie Baby,” with the first recording retaining some of the inspiration’s jangly guitar and rock ‘n’ roll authenticity, but by the time he re-recorded what proved to be a smash hit it had been ironed out to fit an early ’60s sense of decorum. He followed that up with a luscious “Take Good Care of My Baby,” written with old-fashioned Tin Pan Alley craftsmanship by Barry Geffen and Carol King, and such professionally rendered pop songs as “Devil or Angel,” “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” and “Run to Him,” which still stand out among the best of that brief interregnum in rock ‘n’ roll’s reign. Each had a bouncy enough beat and uptempo youth appeal to fit on American Bandstand’s roundup of the latest youth culture, but it was fare more redolent of those ’40s and ’50s crooners and their carefully polished-tunes and earnest politeness that were nearly wiped out by rock ‘n’ roll, and that’s how the ’60s began.
The decade ended with musicians smashing their guitars and setting them afire and playing psychedelic electric guitar versions of The National Anthem, and rock ‘n’ rollers were suddenly even hairier and scarier than those backwoods rednecks and urban ghetto-dwellers of the ’50s had been, and that was the era when Tom Hayden became a sort of celebrity. Born in 1939 to more or less middle class comfort in the placid town of Royal Oak, Mich., Hayden attended a Catholic school where the pastor was the infamously right-wing radio pundit Father Charles Coughlin, then wound up at the infamously left-wing University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he immediately began to acquire a left-wing infamy of his own. He was editor of the school’s suddenly radicalized student newspaper, jailed and beaten for his civil rights activism in the South, a founding member of the anti-Vietnam War and anti-capitalist Students for a Democratic Society, an author of the Port Huron Statement that became a manifesto for the New Left, and was one of the “Chicago Seven” brought to a widely publicized trial for allegedly fomenting riots at the 1968 Democratic Party’s national convention. This was lead-story-on-the-nightly-news and cover-of-The-Rolling-Stone stuff back then, so by the time the ’70s rolled around Hayden was a much bigger star than Bobby Vee.
Hayden wound up divorcing his first wife and a few years later getting married to Oscar-winning and impeccably left-wing actress Jane Fonda, with both soon heading off to Vietnam for a highly controversial photo-op with the North Vietnamese, and although they later divorced they were even more newsworthy than Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie while it lasted. After the divorce he settled in the woman he would be married to until his death, and a rather routine career as a politician. He lost a California Democratic primary race to Sen. John Tunney in ’76, but won a State Assemblyman seat in 82, moved up to the state Senate in 93 and hung around Sacramento until 2000, and compiled a record that was undeniably left-wing but not conspicuously radical by California standards. He lost races for governor in ’94 and the Los Angeles mayoralty in ’97 and a seat on the L.A. City Council in 2001.
By the time the 21st Century rolled around Hayden was still reviled by the city’s growing Vietnamese refugee population and aging white Republicans, but newly regarded as something of a sell-out by the newer New Left. Hayden had written memoirs and articles confessing his regret that his anti-Vietnam war stance had spilled over into anti-Americanism, ruefully acknowledging that his Students for a Democratic Society had spawned the terrorist Weather Underground, and lamenting that the free speech and individual rights ideas of that crazy Port Huron statement had somehow led to a newer New Left that clamored for speech codes and group identity politics, and seemed to have forgotten the realism of the Old Left that Father Coughlin had railed against and Hayden’s generation had nearly wiped out, and even his impeccably left-wing voting record could not absolve his heresies or make him hip again. At one point in the early ’80s we caught Hayden’s act live, as we were on a hitchhiking trip up the East Coast and crashed at a friends dorm at Harvard University and went along to lecture Hayden was giving, and we still chuckle at how the crowd rolled its eyes at his saccharine shtick about his daughter’s fear of nuclear weapons and how a professorial looking fellow with a gray beard and patched elbows on his jacket shouted “Send in the Marines!”
Bobby Vee stayed married to the same woman for 50 years, despite the temptations that a good-looking pop star probably encountered, spent most of the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s making a good living on the oldies circuit, then settled into a quiet small town life in St. Joseph, Minnesota, then slowly succumbed to an early onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. The Beatles covered “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “Run to Him,” so the hottest band of the ’60s vouched for his coolness, and the same Carol King who wrote the former song had the biggest selling album of the ’70s with that great Tin Pan Alley hippie manifesto of an album “Tapestry,” and another big fan is the newly proclaimed Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan. Back when Dylan was a small town Minnesota boy named Robert Zimmerman he had a short stint as the keyboards player with Bobby Vee and the Shadows, and we highly recommend his affectionate cover of “Suzie Baby.”
It remains how to be seen how the ’60s will ultimately play out, but we’re glad to note that this crazy election will almost certainly be the last to feature any of those damned baby-boomers, and we hope that the very best of both Bobby Vee and Tom Hayden will somehow persist, and that the worst of it will somehow fade away.

— Bud Norman