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AARP The Magazine

How the Boomers Saved Everything

Yes, we’re spoiled rotten. We’re self-absorbed. And it seems like we’ll never shut up. But the boomers made a better world for everyone else. You’re welcome

This is how we brought down the Berlin Wall. Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev get the kudos, but we were the ones who tagged the Wall with all that awesome graffiti. When people our age on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall saw how much fun people our age on the right side of the Berlin Wall were having, it was all over with the Communist bloc. Today the Soviet Union is just a collection of countries with too many K's and Z's in their names, and China is the kind of dictatorship whose idea of world conquest is domination of the global smartphone manufacturing sector. We're the generation that laughed off totalitarianism.

Little wonder that we've created a political system best known for producing comedy. A Rasmussen poll from a few years ago found that 32 percent of Americans under 40 think that satirical TV programs such as The Daily Show With Jon Stewart are replacing traditional news outlets. You can't really blame them, considering the news that Senator Blutarsky and his colleagues generate. And yet, although partisan polarization may have Washington deadlocked, there are worse things than a deadlocked Washington — such as a unified Washington marching boldly forward toward disaster in Vietnam when the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed in 1964 (with a vote of 416-0 in the House, 88-2 in the Senate).

Anyway, we're not "polarized." We're just bickering on the Capitol Hill playground. We love to argue. Half the boomers want more social services, to be paid for by other people. And half the boomers are those other people. At our age, we can't always remember which half we're in. For me, it depends on the day. Some days I'm a Part D prescription drug beneficiary; some days it's April 15.

We're also the generation that laughed off the kind of casual bigotry once widely acceptable in American life. To see how far we've come, compare All in the Family with Modern Family, two popular TV shows about intergenerational relations in a changing world. The 1970s sitcom was considered groundbreaking because it got laughs from Greatest Generation patriarch Archie Bunker's unreconstructed racism and sexism. The current show is considered groundbreaking because it gets laughs from boomer patriarch Jay Pritchett's bemused confusion about gay marriage, blended families and … actually, Modern Family is not considered groundbreaking. It's just considered funny.

Next page: P.J. O'Rourke discusses the baby boomers' impact on prejudice, war and children. »

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