I keep reading that polls show young people — the so-called Millennial Generation aged 23-38— are overwhelmingly backing Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination (along with even younger voters) while the so-called Baby Boom Generation of people now aged roughly 55 to 75 are going for Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg or some other ossified mainstream Democratic pol.
Speaking as a 70-year-old Baby Boomer myself, and increasingly an admirer of Sanders, I gotta ask: OK Boomers, what’s happened to you?
Think back: What were you doing back in the late 1960s when you were in your teens or early 20s as the Civil Rights Movement was finally winning the right to vote for Black people, when the Vietnam War was raging and classmates of yours were coming home in body bags? Where were you when President Nixon in 1970 urged Ohio Republican Governor James Rhodes to send the Ohio National Guard onto the Kent State Campus to put down a student protest against his illegal invasion of Cambodia, expanding an ugly war to yet another country, and the “heroic” guardsmen shot and killed four unarmed students? Where were you when we were all shattering the walls of prudery, experimenting with sex, the mind-freeing wonders of marijuana and yes, even LSD? Where were you as women and their male supporters suddenly stood tall and said that just having the vote wasn’t enough; they demanded equality with men on the job, in the home, in politics and in their relationships?
We Boomers have been maligned in the media and by politicians since back when we were wearing bell-bottom jeans and sandals, when women were putting flowers in their usually long or frizzed-out hair, and when any guy with the slightest facial hair grew a beard or at least a mustache (lately, the attackks are that we’re keeping jobs from young people by not retiring, or that we’re hurting our children’s retirement future by opposing any cuts in our own benefits!) More importantly we were marching against war, against nuclear weapons and arms spending, and condemning the empty consumerism of our parents. In obtaining our attire from thrift stores and traveling the roads by thumb, we were challenging the premise of capitalism itself, saying that it wasn’t the trendiness of what you owned that defined you, it was what you stood for.
We were reading the Realist, R. Crumb Comix, New Times and Ramparts, as well as writers like Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky, Herbert Marcuse, Betty Friedan, Malcolm X, Marshal McLuhan and Henry Thoreau for our worldview.
And we were, for the most part I would argue, happier and freer than we are today.
Somehow, in the intervening years since the victory of the Vietnamese over the country’s US invaders, the impeachment hearings and resignation of Nixon, the end of the draft, passage of the Voting Rights Act and creation of Medicare and Medicaid, and the at least partial liberation of women, we’ve lost our way. We got married, raised families, fretted over the size of the IRA and 401(k) plans we and our weakened trade unions if we still had them, were forced to rely on instead of the real pensions workers in an age of stronger unions used to have. And even worse, we became consumers instead of people, morphing into better-off versions of our own parents. Some of us even became Republicans or Neo-liberal Democrats, worried more about our own gain than about those who were being left behind or crushed by what we used to call the “System,” and ignoring what our nation was and still is doing to the world.
During all these intervening years, as we’ve lost our way, Bernie Sanders has stayed the course. Four years too old to be officially a Baby Boomer, Sanders, born in 1941, hails from that demographic cohort that, during the Nixon years, to its undying disgrace, came to be known, and even to self-identify, as the Silent Generation consisting of those born between the wars or during WWII. Sanders, though, has never been silent. He protested and faced arrest as a student defending the rights of American blacks and opposed both US apartheid and the Vietnam War. He then entered politics as a socialist, winning election as mayor of Burlington, VT (which under his leadership become known jokingly as “the People’s Republic of Burlington” … and admiringly as one of the best US cities to live in). Later he moved on to Congress, first as a representative and then as the state’s junior senator — a position he still holds.
Bernie Sanders, my fellow Boomers, is the person we had intended to be as we grew older and wiser: Obstinate and outspoken defenders of the downtrodden, rejectors of consumerism, and advocates of the notion that we all are better off when we demand that government help those who are the neediest, not those who are the most wealthy and powerful. Sanders may have on occasion failed to remember our Edwin Starr mantra “War: What is it good for? Absolutely Nothin!,” but he seems to be coming around to that view again in this race for the presidency.
We Boomers as a group need to do the same. In fact, those of us who are not supporting Sanders in this coming election year need to do some soul searching about who we really are and what we really stand for.
Maybe my insurance plan (at a significant cost ) is really great , but that is no reason for me to oppose expanded and improved Medicare for All as proposed by Sen. Sanders. Not only would Medicare for All cost me a lot less than I pay now for healthcare coverage, but with Medicare for All I would know that everyone else in this nation — all my fellow citizens — would have the same access to free high-quality health care as me.
Maybe if the government subsidized the installation of point-of-use electrical generating equipment (wind, geothermal or solar panels) on all US homes, I’d be paying higher taxes, but our air would be vastly cleaner, our cars would all be electric and virtually cost-free to drive, and we’d no longer have power bills from climate-change-inducing and pollution-causing power plant operator. A Green New Deal that promises to find jobs for those displaced by the urgent shutdown of greenhouse gas polluters, as advocated by Sanders, even if jarring for some, would be good for everyone.
If we ended our national imperial policy of endless wars and slashed military spending, maybe the US military and the arms industry would lay off a lot of people, but Americans would be viewed a lot better by the rest of the world, and our nation would be able to spend a trillion dollars a year or more in productive rather than destructive ways — like engaging in a crash program to save the earth from human-caused mass extinction.
When we were younger and more idealistic, we always talked about “peace, love and understanding,” remember? Now we talk about Russiagate, Trump, terrorism, the next recession, how or when we’re going to retire, and our next Caribbean cruise.
I’m not sure how it happened, but we as a generation have lost our way and our soul. We urgently need to “get back, get back, get back to where we once belonged.”
Bernie’s been there all along, and now we need to not just support but to join him. We don’t want or need a corporate lacky and banker’s best friend like Joe Biden who was opposing busing while Bernie was joining anti-discrimination sit-ins, and who came up with the racist and classist idea of mass incarceration that has made the US the nation with the most people in jail in the world. Nor do we want or need a guy like Michael Bloomberg who as Mayor of New York saw his wealth grow from $4.6 billion to $36.7 billion, and who, when he was in charge of that city’s struggling public college system, the City University of New York, chose to donate $1.8 billion not to CUNY but to Johns Hopkins, a wealthy private university in Baltimore with a $3-billion endowment at that time! And we don’t want or need a guy like Pete Buttigieg who is backed by dozens of billionaire capitalists, and who spent his formative years working for firm, McKinsey, that makes its profits by advising companies on how to ditching massive numbers of their workers, and who calls for sending the US troops into Mexico!
Bernie Sanders may not be perfect. I have criticized (in Counterpunch magazine) his stubborn and indefensible support for the Pentagon’s basing of 18 hugly expensive and destabilizing F-35A nuclear-capable fighter bombers with the Vermont National Guard at Burlington’s little municipal airport in his home state — a position totally at odds with his claim that the plane itself is a wasteful weapons system. But his faults pale in comparison with all the competition.
Hell! We all have our faults. But we Boomers had something in our younger days that was right-on: a commitment to peace and justice, a pacific preference for love over hate and war, a gut opposition to racism and later to sexism, and a willingness to take it to the streets to make our positions heard and responded to.
We need to get that mojo back, and now is the time for us to do it, if not for ourselves, then for the two generations that follow us: our kids, and our grandkids.
Sanders at 78 still has those values and has been acting on them, or at least most of them, for his whole political career. He should have been the Democratic Party’s candidate in 2016 and probably would be president today, but the forces of corporatism and reaction in the party leadership and in the mainstream corporate media, and a rigged system of “pledged” unelected Superdelegates, kept that from happening. The same thing is happening again this time around. We need to take the lead and not just leave this struggle to the kids — who by the way are showing us the way forward, with 57% backing Sanders for president.
Remember who you were, and be that person again, fellow Boomer. This is not just about Trump and Russiagate. It’s about saving the world.
Now, I hear all the time when I mention Sanders to people my age — generally liberal Democrats — that Sanders “has no chance to win,” that his socialist ideas like Medicare for All are “too far left for most voters,” and that he’s “a one- or at best two-issue candidate: Medicare for All and break up the banks.” Meanwhile, the media are now claiming, on the basis of ignorance about the UK and of lazy thinking, that the drubbing of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party on Dec. 12 is “a warning” for Democrats not to nominate a left-wing presidential candidate. So let me address these erroneous tropes. First of all, Sanders has been a combination of viciously attacked, ignored and/or misrepresented by the corporate media, and especially the liberal media. MSNBC has actually misstated his poll standing repeatedly. The New York Times has written more about Bloomberg (polling 0-1%) and Yang (polling 5% at best) lately than about Sanders who is in the lead in California polls and in second place or even leading in nationwide in some national polls. Don’t believe me? Check out Real Clear Politics, which runs poll averages instead of just single polls. Don’t think the media are being unfair in their reporting on Sanders? Read this, this and this. The LA Times actually was forced a few weeks ago by massive reader protests to correct a headline that said Warren and Biden were losing ground in California, but failed to mention that it was Sanders who was taking the lead!
The truth is, Sanders is leading or gaining ground in the primaries nationally and in key states like South Carolina, California and Florida. Also true is that he is speaking not just to progressives, but to the core working class voters who abandoned the Democratic Party and voted for Trump last time. I saw this at work in 2016 driving through upstate NY in small towns where everyone is either Republican or independent but typically conservative, but where many, many people also depend upon Medicaid or lately, the ACA if they have jobs, to pay for their medical care. During the 2016 Democratic primary, the area sported lots of Sanders signs on lawns and bumpers. After Clinton won that primary, the signs and bumper stickers upstate switched to Trump or to “Lock her up!” signs. That should tell you all you need to know.
As for my leftist friends who think Sanders is too squishy and liberal, check out his enemies: Virtually the entire mass media, Mayor Bloomberg, the $56-billion Man who joined the race for president fearing that the party might, god forbid, nominate an anti-capitalist like Sanders or and anti-billionaire like Elizabeth Warren. Remember two things: A candidate can be defined best by the enemies he or she makes, and perfection in a candidate means election failure.
Bernie in 2020!