Commentary: Boomers didn't change the world like we thought we would

The Kansas City StarDecember 1, 2012 

The Rolling Stones threw a 50th anniversary concert Sunday. After five decades, apparently, Mick and the band still aren’t satisfied.

I’m still a fan. As a tail-end baby boomer, I caught a whiff of the 1960s — I was too young for Woodstock, but read about it. I had a draft number but no draft. The first item I ever put in this newspaper was a letter to the editor complaining about a proposed marijuana crackdown at Arrowhead Stadium, after a Rolling Stones show there.

Those were the days.

Easy nostalgia is every boomer’s birthright, of course. But the Stones’ show gives us a chance to take a closer look at this year’s election and the legacy of the 1960s generation, which is much more complicated and interesting than our memories of it.

One of the great misconceptions about the 1960s is that it represented a great flowering of liberal politics. It looked that way — long hair, bell bottoms — but the public was more conservative than we recall.

Most Americans actually supported our military presence in Vietnam until the late 1960s. “Ballad of the Green Berets” by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler sold more copies in 1966 than any other record.

Civil rights? Jim Crow was beaten, but segregationist Gov. George Wallace won more than 13 percent of the 1968 presidential vote, carrying five states. And we’re still arguing about school integration and affirmative action today.

So don’t be surprised that voters over 65, most of them boomers, said in exit polls they voted overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney this year, 56 percent to 44 percent. He won with late-middle-age boomers too.

But what about their kids?

Voters aged 30-44 went for Barack Obama by 7 points. Voters between 18 and 29 gave the Democrat an unbelievable 24-point advantage, and their turnout was higher than in 2008.

How can that be? Young voters face huge loans, no jobs, even an insurance mandate.

This week the Pew Research Center suggested an answer. “Young voters … express more liberal attitudes on a range of issues — from gay marriage to the role of the federal government — than do older voters.”

Younger voters are worried about the economy, it seems, but they also want a more open society, racially integrated, tolerant — the kind of society boomers talked about, but never really reached. Voters over 65 oppose gay marriage by 21 points; voters between 18 and 29 support it by 24 points.

Heck, young voters in two states pushed through liberal marijuana laws this month. Must be Stones fans, too.

Boomers didn’t change the world in the ways we think, but our kids and grandkids will. So our theme today isn’t “Time Is On My Side,” because it isn’t.

It’s Graham Nash’s “Teach Your Children.” It’s a better description of the world boomers are leaving behind.

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