Boomers' children are born leaders.
In the Nov. 7 Register-Guard, New York Times columnist Gail Collins noted that the 2008 election ended the era of baby boomer presidents. The boomers - my generation - have held the presidency for 16 years. Bill Clinton was the first boomer president; George Bush, the last.
We've heard much about the boomers' numbers and enormous cultural presence. The eldest boomers, born in 1946, turned 62 this year to reach Social Security eligibility; the youngest, born in 1960, are approaching 50. As my 20-something children remind me, we boomers (I'm 54) have run this country's economy, society and culture in a flagrantly visible way for every decade of their conscious lives.
Surprisingly, despite our numbers and marketability, boomers had only 16 years, and only two faces, in the White House.
The boomers' parents? Well, that's another story.
In 1960, President Dwight Eisenhower (born in 1890), passed the presidency to another World War II veteran: John F. Kennedy. How long did Kennedy's generation of young World War II veterans - the Greatest Generation, in Tom Brokaw's term - hold onto the White House?
That's right. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush. All World War II veterans, although Army reserve captain Reagan served by making war movies. The oldest? Lyndon Johnson, born in 1908 - nine years Kennedy's senior. The youngest? George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, both born in 1924. Sixteen years separate the oldest and the youngest of those seven - yes, seven - presidents. Fourteen years separate the oldest and youngest boomers.
Greatest Generation's presidential run: more than three decades. Baby boomers': half that.
Why only two boomer presidents?
Maybe because leadership, unlike narcissism, doesn't rank high on the boomer hit parade.
The Greatest Generation gave their boomer children extraordinary economic mobility. We boomers always seemed able to find jobs and get ahead - at least, white boomers could do so. Johnson's Great Society tried to lift everyone out of poverty, but melted in the face of Vietnam, not to mention entrenched racism and sexism.
The hit TV series "Mad Men" dramatizes the economic and material successes of white middle-class 1950s moms and dads. But the series has just begun to explore the men and women who, ever so tentatively in the early 1960s, began to turn away from the strait-jacketed gendered parenting roles that had been foisted on them. It took their boomer children to truly change the landscape of parenting.
Boomers took the pill, had legal abortions, and gave birth not as a social duty, but when they wanted children. Privileged boomers delayed childbirth and chose to nurture fewer children, and to do so in new ways - and sometimes not at all. We changed the expectations of and stories about families. Boomer mothers worked, much against the pundits' received wisdom, and boomer dads shared parenting with boomer moms to an unprecedented extent. Boomer families pushed cooperation rather than individualism. We valued group dynamics and applauded cooperation. Boomer narcissists became, in terms of children and family, a generation of "reciprocitists." Moreover, families were no longer only dads and moms - there were stepdads, stepmoms, gay dads, gay moms. The boomers' children imbibed a freedom and diversity that played out in both home and school.
Pundits may decry the rent fabric of American families, but I think the holes aren't in our extended, diverse families: they're really in our leadership capacities. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush prove that boomers are lame as leaders. Hillary Clinton's run for the presidency only further shows that boomers are about partnerships, not individual heroics. And let's face it: Bill and Hillary, despite all their dramas, raised a pretty fab 20-something.
Let's accept that boomer expertise hasn't been in leadership. Instead, let's recognize that, despite the startling irony, the narcissistic boomers' children are the first-generation products of truly expert parenting. Today's 20-somethings are smart, energized, less racist than previous generations, cooler in every respect, broadly creative and inventive, extraordinarily versatile and possessed of a remarkable mixture of optimistic hope and absolutely clear-eyed realism.
Like Barack Obama.
So what if the boomers haven't produced great leaders? We've produced great children. The boomer narcissists found their calling: to revolutionize the family. Parents and aunts, uncles and teachers, and friends who are straight, gay, and of every hue have shaped a generation not only eager and ready for change, but much experienced with it. Let's celebrate the spirit of cooperation and equality that boomers have firmly planted in the next generation, our future leaders.
Louise Bishop is an associate professor and associate dean of the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon.