Magazine article Insight on the News

Hail to the Chief and Goodbye to All That

Magazine article Insight on the News

Hail to the Chief and Goodbye to All That

Article excerpt

Baby boomers must be used to this feeling, but I'm not. It's been dawning on me of late that for the first time in my life I'm part of a recognized sociological phenomenon. I had been under the impression that I was a self-made man, a rugged individualist, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Come to find out, I did a rather predictable thing in the mid-eighties; like droves of young conservatives, I moved to Washington. Ronald Reagan was the flame; I was just another moth.

It's a humbling experience to discover that your chief accomplishment in life is to have been the constituent part of a trend, the unwitting member of a herd of lemmings.

But it's probably only fair to take one's turn under the sociological microscope. Baby boomers, as I was saying, have had to put up with this business since the day they were born. Every milestone in their lives is heralded in newsmagazine cover stories, pored over by market researchers, anticipated far in advance by stock analysts looking for hot new growth industries (funeral industry stocks may be next).

Trend stories, by implication, denigrate the free will of their subjects. They separate the world into three parts: hapless trendies (like myself) who fall into formation and march in lockstep with their fellows; the superior breed, with well-anchored lives, who are unaffected by trends; and of course, finally, the trend-spotter himself, the writer of the story and therefore the finest and highest character of all.

Every journalist worth his salt loves to write a good trend story, because it is the supreme act of one-upmanship to identify the demographic, cultural or fashion-industry machine driving the behavior of everyone else. The trendmeister explains to his subjects that they are behaving in a way that he understands better than they do.

When I packed my bags in New York in 1985, and hopped the Amtrak train to Washington a half-step ahead of the collection agencies, I thought I was playing the lead role in a purely personal drama. (My memoir of the period is tentatively titled: How to Make It in the Big Apple on $12,000 a Year; the first chapter, "Max Out the Credit Cards and Leave Town Fast.") I had snagged a congenial job in Washington and knew people there. That was reason enough to move.

But it turns out I was just a bit player in a much larger drama. And the hidden key to my behavior was in front of my nose the whole time - I knew people there.

Why? Because everyone I knew was a young conservative on the make, and Washington was the place to be if that's what you were. …

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