Generational Theory of Politics Gives a Distorted View

Article excerpt

Do other countries obsess about generations the way Americans do? Here, we never tire of naming ourselves according to birth order, like some middle child complaining to his psychiatrist about whom Mom loved best.

There are the baby boomers - and don't you wish you had a dime for every time that group gets ink? And Generation X, those now in their 20s, said to be an anxious, rootless bunch. And the World War II generation. And the silent generation. That's not all. Somewhere in the interstices you must find room for the yuppies (young urban professionals), dinks (dual income, no kids), senior citizens, notch babies (ask the Social Security Administration) and thirtysomethings.

U.S. News and World Report devoted an entire story in a recent issue to analyzing the pack of Republican presidential hopefuls according to generation. Bob Dole is given credit, the article says, for his military service but demerits for his age. Most voters, a poll has purported to show, would prefer to vote for someone of the "silent generation," that is, the group that came of age in the 1950s.

That pollsters even ask such questions is proof that they are too bored for their own good. For while a few broad generalizations are possible about generations - the older an American is the more likely he is to be law-abiding, for example - categorizing people politically by the decade of their birth is bound to be a silly enterprise.

The generation that gave us Bill and Hillary Clinton also gave us Dan and Marilyn Quayle, John Lennon, David Duke, Charles Manson, Tom Clancy, Richard Simmons, Rush Limbaugh, Richard Gephardt, Eldridge Cleaver and Alan Keyes. Does anyone care to find the common trait - other than age - linking them all?

I thought this nonsense about generations had been put to rest a few years ago, when retrospectives of the 1960s revealed that, contrary to popular myth, most young people of the time supported the war in Vietnam, shunned drugs (that changed among youngsters of the '70s, '80s and '90s), remained virgins until marriage (that has certainly changed since) and were more likely to call themselves conservative than liberal. …