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Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

November 8, 2014

“I’m not trying to cause a big s-s-sensation
(Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I’m just talkin’ ’bout my g-g-generation
(Talkin’ ’bout my generation)

My generation
This is my generation, baby”

– P. Townshend, from The Who’s My Generation

I have a thesis that my generation has messed things up badly and has a lot to answer for the question of “what happened?” How did our county become such a mess? I haven’t proven the theory and when I mention in conversation, I don’t have much to offer to back it up. I resort to anecdotal evidence, a little hand-waiving, and use the word “seem” too often. The statement ends with inconclusive support that lets you know that this is only a sense. This of course, has little or no meaning in science, sociology included. Just the facts, Jack.

I’m going to use Ram On to see if I can formulate an argument that stands up. It’s a low bar, since I only need to convince myself. Maybe it won’t happen, and if it does, it won’t happen with one blog post. I just don’t have the time. Writing economically is more work.

Reverend fathers, my letters were not wont either to be so prolix, or to follow so closely on one another. Want of time must plead my excuse for both of these faults. The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter. You know the reason of this haste better than I do. You have been unlucky in your answers. You have done well, therefore, to change your plan; but I am afraid that you will get no credit for it, and that people will say it was done for fear of the Benedictines.

– Blaise Pascal, in one of his 17th century Provincial Letters to the Jesuits

Likely, the blog posts on this new category, “Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation,” will only be ramblings consisting of observations and accounts to support my conclusion. No hard science here.

Who knows? Maybe some of it will stick together. I know that this is a low standard, but this is just another Word Press blog, after all. While I don’t like the idea of regressing to the mean, it’s never been my purpose (as if I had to say) to create a stop for scholars. Further, the standard isn’t substantively different from that of the mainstream media or the two national political parties. These people run their communication models strictly on the notion of creating the “narrative” (oh, how I hate that word as it is used today). Once they settle in on it, it’s run 24/7 until either real matters or their imagined issues tell them it’s time to adjust and start a new cycle.

We’re all sociologists of some sort. There’s no shortage of opinions, certainly. However, sometimes we don’t get very far into the formal and disciplined structure of making a cohesive and incontrovertible conclusion. I think I’d enjoy scholarly research. There was a time I considered committing to PhD studies. Prior to that, I also briefly entertained the idea of putting some time into formal training in sociology. One of my professors pulled me aside after class and told me that he wanted to nominate me for an honors program in sociology and asked if I had any interest. He was a wonderful teacher and I always enjoyed his lectures. He was a Stanford classmate of Ken Kesey and ran with him in the baby boomers’ heady days here on the West Coast in the 1960s and 1970s. Still a young man when he was my instructor, he had just been diagnosed with cancer. We watched him as he went through the first stages of treatment. He was clearly tired some days, but never disengaged from his students.

As pleased as I was to receive my professor’s support, I had to decline. Sociology wasn’t my field of study and I was focused on completing my program and getting my degree. At the time, extra work seemed like a luxury that I couldn’t afford.

With this week’s elections now behind us, I decided to start my new blog category. I wanted to find out how many people my age voted. After too many dead ends, I stopped. Maybe it’s too early for this segmentation. Maybe it’s there and I just couldn’t find it. Either way, I moved on. I next wondered how people my age have voted over their lives. Specifically, I wanted to see how people voted during the years we elected a president and then their record during the succeeding mid-term election. This too proved to be a larger task than I can take on today. I think it’s all out there; I found some of the data. However, I haven’t found it in one spot and compiling and normalizing it is way too ambitious. I’m already watching Saturday morning slip away.

So I settled for something else. It’s just a score card, without accompanying commentary. Using Roper Center’s data, I took a look at the presidential voting records for people my age over the span of their voting lives. I wanted to filter the data to a narrow age band (two years either side of my own age) since I am at the tail end of the baby boomers generation and the life experience of those at the front end is different from mine. Again, this was more involved than I had hoped and I couldn’t find that data. Let the following chart serve as a good enough proxy.

votes

This chart starts with voters who were 18-21 years old in 1976. That same cohort are reflected as 45-60 years old in the 2012 election.

******

I started with 1976, the first year that I could (and did) vote. Gerald Ford campaigned in one of the country’s early indoor malls that was a few miles from our house. My parents, younger sister and brother and I went out there to see him to get into the spirit of things a couple of weeks before election day.  I remember that the stump speech was short, there were a lot of people wearing big coats cheering for their candidate and that in addition to the first major politician, I saw Secret Service men dressed in black for the first time. They looked as serious about their work then as they do now.

1341

This has nothing to do with voting, but since I couldn’t find a photo of President Ford campaigning at the mall, I thought I’d include this photo of Carol Lawrence and Vincent Price at the grand opening. I guess it was a big deal to offer so many ways to spend your hard-earned money under one roof. It wouldn’t be right to simply unlock the doors without a celebration. The mall was designed to mesmerize youngsters and adults alike. I was a casual early day mall rat. Now and again, we’d aimlessly roam that ginormous pit. I even worked at one of the two record stores there later on. I enjoyed that job. I was paid $2.10 per hour. I still have some of the LPs I bought with my earnings at a discounted employee rate, possibly an album from The Who.

******

I’ve voted in every one of these elections, except 1992. Without notice, I had to fly to an out-of-town assignment on Election Day, when the first baby boomer, Bill Clinton, was first elected. I dutifully took the all-day flight back east and missed the vote. George H.W. Bush, a WW II veteran, was running with favorable job performance ratings of 34%, which was a little less than the 37% of the vote that he received in the election. Remember, that was the year that Ross Perot also picked up a significant part of the general election vote (19%).

I have a 3-5-1 record with my votes.

******

11/9/14 clarification: There’s no budget for a copy editor here at Ram On. So I depend on careful readers like my friend, K. (Thank you.)

I have voted three times with the majority of my age group and five times in the minority. In 1980, people in my age group split their vote. That is what I meant when I said that I have a 3-5-1 record with my votes.

******

MAD-Magazine-Alfred-for-President-Brink

17 Comments
  1. A lot of food for thought here. Yes, I think writing (and reading) blogs is a type of sociology project. I know I’ve learned lots since blogging – both from my own writing, and the writing of others. I’m not sure how you will prove that it’s our fault (our generation – the Baby Boomers) that the country is so messed up. I think every generation thinks that the country is messed up. I think that there’s a see-saw motion in government and culture that keeps it evened out in the end (pretty bad/pretty good). There are some great things going on in our country, and there are some horrid ones. Our generation decided to do away with structure and the morals of the 50s and ‘let it all hang out.’ We went too far. I’m looking forward to a swing back, but not too far. Those in their 40s seem focused on financial wealth. Those in their 30s seemed focused on themselves. I’m hoping that those entering adulthood now will swing it back to thinking about others, and finding more inside themselves, instead of outside pleasures. (Wow, you got me going…!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • There was a little passion in that comment, Pamela. Maybe it will be the start to a blog post over there on Roughwighting. I will not be able to prove that my generation messed things up exclusively, although sometimes I wonder if a team of trained sociologists with a proper research budget could.

      But for us, that’s the beauty of having “just another WP blog,” We get a part-time writing past time with a very forgiving set of readers.

      Like

  2. It’s very worrying about the low turnout and voter apathy. I try to never miss an election– don’t think I have– my first Presidential vote was for Jimmy Carter.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Funny that you brought this up, Bruce. My husband firmly believes it is not the Boomers who are the problem, but the generation before that — the Eisenhower generation. The ones who had low tuition at state schools (and whose children did too) and can be confident in their Medicare and Social Security. Who are now retired and joining the Tea Party in droves.

    Me, I blame the folks who didn’t vote.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Honestly can’t recall how many times I have voted nor often for whom I have voted – it is possible I voted in every election, but I doubt it and my memory is not that clear. The first I clearly recall was voting for Walter Mondale (one of the few). Since then I have shifted my political perspective. I know I voted for McCain and Romney. It is entirely possible I have never voted for a winner.

    Like

    • Hello Jeff. Thank you for stopping in. It’s nice to see you here.

      That’s quite a record you’ve got going over there! You will have to soon experience the thrill of seeing your choice walk into the Oval Office.

      I once had quite a passion for national politics, but those days are long gone. As for many others, it can be difficult to endure these days.

      Like

  5. The electoral leanings of each generation must be qualified by voter turnout. Those who never, rarely, or inconsistently vote are much more likely to be philosophically liberal than conservative. The 2014 midterm election turnout was a paltry 36.6% – 22 points below the presidential election year of 2012, nearly 5 points lower than the 2010 midterms, over 20 points less than the post-WWII midterm election high in 1966, and just half the turnout in 1866 after the Civil War (blacks and women didn’t have the right to vote at that time).

    Prior to 1992, I never voted because I had deluded myself into thinking that voting didn’t matter. I’ve voted every year since because I finally woke up to reality. Voting doesn’t just matter, it is mandatory if we are to sustain democracy. Right now, we are in grave danger of losing it.

    Baby Boomers such as myself were so anti-establishment back in the day that we “dropped out” of institutional society. Today much of that sentiment still lingers.

    Like

  6. Robert – It should concern anyone who ever thinks about the notion of democracy.

    Here are some counts to consider. Dismal turnout in LA County (25%) and Sacramento (33%). Only 28% in Napa County and 26% in San Joaquin County. People handing over the keys.

    Like

  7. HI Bruce, we know my voting track record. Here is my pub’s. She missed being eligible for the 1980 election by 2.5 weeks. Had to wait another four years for Reagan-Mondale race. While she never kept tabs, she is sure she voted in every election in which she was eligible, including locals. She works the polls and can say for sure that district 1 in Concord, Mass., was swarming with voters on Nov. 4. It was nonstop voters open to close. A fine sight, but sadly not nationally. xo LMA

    Like

  8. Please know that your readers definitely do NOT consider you, your blog, your comments a “low standard” 🙂 (and I know you meant by scientific standards).
    I was interested to read Elyse’s husbands thoughts.
    I’ve voted in every election, Midterm and Pres since Carter. It KILLS me that people do not vote!!!

    Like

  9. Right on, Laurie. That’s why we have voting day – to vote. People need to realize that the alternative is worse. If nobody showed up, the entire franchise would be snapped up in short order.

    Like

  10. I liked a lot about this post, and particularly that little jab at the beginning: “…science, sociology included.” I was never a fan of sociology, too uncomfortable with passing judgement on what I saw. Who am I to say what would fix a problem? Who am I to say it’s a problem? I studied anthropology instead. But in the guise of just another WP blogger, I do plenty of judging.

    So I saw the divergence point on the graph at 1992 and realized that was the year Ross Perot ran. I was 18 in ’88 and thus it was my first year voting. Had to mail in my ballot from technical school in the Air Force. In 92 I voted for Ross Perot. I had just read On Wings of Eagles, and was a big fan of the man. I have voted every year since, finding more pleasure in voting on issues than for people.

    Despite my consistency, I can completely understand voter apathy. My opinion doesn’t matter. Corporations with money win votes. I am just too stubborn to give it up. I feel like I owe it to the suffragettes to take part, and I believe in the idea of a democratic vote, even though I am not convinced we’ve got one.

    Like

    • Hi Crystal,

      Perot appealed to many for the same reasons a new face does so today. So much of what we hear from the R’s and D’s is not much more than blather. We want to hope for the best from many of them, but it is a guy like Perot who convinces us that just something might be different if they were given a chance. Voter apathy is illogical and pathetic, albeit understandable. With each passing year, democracy around here looks a little different than it once did.

      Like

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