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The Most Influential People in our Lives

There you have it. Our long, strange trip. From wooden puppets to Woodies to Woodstock to woodstoves to the World Wide Web. We've been there, done that, and most definitely got the tee shirt. From "Say, kids, what time is it?" to "Have a Nice Day" to " Life's a bitch and then you die." From "Smash the State" to "Jack-booted government thugs." From fallout shelters to Internet connections. From hula hoops to cellular phones. From "Can't Buy Me Love" to IRAs and 401Ks. From Free Love to free range chicken s. From Freedom Rides to, alas, drive-by shootings. From coddled babies to baby coddlers -- we're still trying to re-make the world.

          We just can't leave things alone, as though we're still reacting to our parents yelling at us to sit down and be quiet.

          We've seen our ideas, reforms and lunacy become mainstream and commonplace. Not only freer sex, but such widely shared concerns as environmentalism, consumer awareness, and a belief in egalitarian democracy. Our mistrust of institutions has unfortu nately become a traditional value.

          Many of us now reject the ideas we once touted. Some of us have created a contra culture that looks to the past, the 50s in particular, for an approach the future. The contra culture is in many ways counterrevolutionary. It seeks to stamp out all v estiges of the Sixties. It blames that era as others of us once blamed our parents and their parents for our social ills. In any case, it's a safe bet that when the contra culture gets finished, the country will have been as radically influenced by the 90 s as it was by the 60s.

          The most surprising feature of this latest twist along our path is the intense hatred of the first boomer president Bill Clinton. Americans of all generations and backgrounds dislike him, of course. It goes with the territory. But a segment of us, and not necessarily the radicals of the contra culture, bear a visceral loathing for him and his wife that goes beyond political disagreement. Past generations have fought terrible wars, like the Civil War generation for example. But given our communal fe elings, given the fact that we are one of the few generations to feel generational pride, this hatred for the Clintons comes as a surprise.

          The emotional intensity is no stronger than we saw in the 60s. But it has a difference of character. Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Luci Baines and Lynda Bird Johnson, Julie and Tricia Nixon never suffered the opprobrium Hillary and Chelsea have.

          Is it politics? It's difficult to see how it could be solely that. Jealousy? Their less than forthcoming, lawyerly nature? Doubtful that would inspire such loathing.

          The hatred stems instead from a difference of vision. We have different pictures of the past, the present, the future. Clinton, rightly or wrongly, has come to represent a vision now in nearly total disrepute. Never mind that he is easily as conser vative as Jimmy Carter and in policy terms to the right of Richard Nixon. Bill Clinton bears the cross of our discredited youth, especially its excesses. Unjustified though it is, he has become the symbol of social disintegration, drug addiction, crime, v iolence, wife abuse, sexual profligacy, wasteful social spending, high taxes, anti-family radical feminism, homosexuality, reduction of liberty, anti-Americanism. Take your pick. As generational figurehead Bill Clinton carries the burden of it all.

          We've always been passionate. We're a generation at war with itself. For over forty years we've been raising hell of one sort or another. Clearly -- and we should never forget this -- many people outside our generation participated in or led the mo vements in which we were involved. But the strength, the very will to act came from us.

          We dominated the 60s more than our still tender years warranted. Now we dominate the 90s with the same sort of arrogant, all or nothing attitude.

          The counterculture sought to loosen conventional morality and remove the hypocrisy of the double standard. The contra culture now seeks in these vertiginous times to impose a strict Biblical morality. Hippies sought to increase their spiritual live s by exploring eastern mysticism, yoga, transcendental meditation, New Age folderol and the like, Christians (as though mainstream Protestantism and Roman Catholics are not), also seeking to insure spiritualism and religiosity, want to amend the Constitut ion to stamp out pluralism in favor of an legally enforceable Christian nation under God. Similar goals, similar approaches -- coming from antithetical points of view.

          The anti-war movement sought to stop the war in Vietnam and put an end to what it considered American imperialism. The New Right wants to curtail foreign aid and block further military missions abroad. They want to end internationalism -- unless it 's to oppose the spread of Godless communism. Today boomers think the federal government plays too strong a role in their lives. In its place we hope to impose a traditional family-based hierarchy that encourages women to put their political or business c areers second.

          Where the New Left promoted environmental awareness, the New Right seeks to limit excessive environmentalism as harmful to business. Both waves of boomer activism favored decentralization and community control. The difference comes in emphasis. The first wave sought to enhance social responsibility, while the new wave champions individual responsibility. Both waves want to use the federal government to insure its vision of society. Whether it be pro- or anti-abortion, the group or the individual, a strict or an accepting morality.

          Both entertained violent fringe groups. The Weather Underground bombed buildings, held up banks in the name of the people. Aryan Nations, survivalists and elements of the militia movement have bombed buildings, robbed banks and committed fel onies in the name of liberty.

          None of this was expected from a generation with so much time, education, and money on its hands. We watched tv when we were kids, cruised for burgers in souped-up cars in our youth, took to the streets in the name of reform and revolution as young adults, sat in front of our PCs as we crept into middle age while others set about organizing another revolution. What next?

          It's impossible to say, except that the rabble-rousing that has recently become the property of right wing boomers will continue, as will our paranoia about our children. It's possible that as we hit our mid-60s, fortunately still many years away, first wave and second wave activists will join forces to raise holy bloody hell on behalf of Senior Citizens. If such a massive gang of rowdies -- even in their support stockings and Depends -- ever coalesces, no one will be spared and no prisoners will b e taken!

          As the years sped by and we started feeling old and fat, we became the heart and soul of the fitness craze. Today we remain obsessed with our youth, with looking and feeling young. In all too many cases that includes acting young. At least a third of us will live past eighty-five. And all of us will enjoy better health than previous generations. But work out as much as we might, jog, eat healthful foods, take vitamins, reject smoking and excessive drinking, do all of that, and it won't change the b ottom line. By the 100th anniversary of Woodstock, we'll be as scarce as Elvis. And there's no street demonstration, self-help book, guru, political ideology or religion that can do a thing about it. How we handle the next several decades will seal or con firm our destiny.



Inside every Baby Boomer is a child wondering what the hell happened

Title Page
The Most Influential People in our Lives