Friday, October 18, 2013

Fear of a non-gray planet

Screw the grandkids!  They don't even come for Thanksgiving!

The problem in America is not the browning of America; it's the graying.

They think young people are not measuring up. That the grandsons and daughters and nieces and nephews expect to get free college loans, and don’t get a job, and hold ideas that are not very American in their view — like Obama. Obama symbolizes all of this.

How does that play out in the politics around the Affordable Care Act, and these accusations of raiding Medicare?

One of the big mysteries that we’ve tried to deal with in our research is why the Affordable Care Act, which after all is fairly moderate — it’s an extremely important piece of legislation, but it’s moderate in its means — why would that become a flashpoint?

Well, despite all of the particular policy features that came from conservative origins, it is a powerfully redistributive law. The people left out of the insurance system have been lower income and more moderate income workers.  They’re a younger population, browner and blacker. And then you come along with a president who symbolizes everything that conservatives and Tea Partyers hate. And he proposes to raise taxes on wealthier people, Medicare beneficiaries and business to pay for insurance for those people who’ve been left out. So Obamacare really symbolizes the idea that this new America is going to take something from “our America.”
The hatred of grandchildren is an interesting shift; when Bush wanted to privatize Social Security, it was largely credited to grandparents that it didn't happen, because they supposedly knew what that would do to their grandchildren.  As ever, gross generalizations, even from someone like Theda Skocpol, have to be taken with a measure of salt proportionate to the generalization.

But I've seen this dynamic before, and I've seen it turned against even one's adult children:  this much is ours, and you don't understand, and you can't take it from us.  It's part of the reason for the chart here.  Not all of it, certainly; but a part of it, to be sure.  Just as we have at least socially and politically, segregated ourselves by race and ethnicity (I say from one of the most racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the most ethnically diverse city in the country), now we, at least socially and politically, segregate ourselves by age.

I sometimes think this will only get better when more of us move off the stage and make room for the generations below us.  I know some of these elderly represent the "Greatest Generation," which is not holding up their label (imposed by a Boomer that it was), but too many of them now have to be Boomers young enough to be elderly but not to be too old and tired to be politically active.

It may be the ancestors who ate the grapes that set our teeth on edge, but we will have many sins to pay for before this is over.

1 comment:

  1. I had a personal experience with this attitude just last week. I posted a link on my Facebook wall to a positive story about the opening of the insurance exchanges in my state that included glowing praise from an insurance analyst. Almost immediately an aunt in her late sixties bitterly attacked me on my wall and accused me of "drinking the Kool Aid" and not knowing what I was talking about.

    Knowing that she is a pretty typical uninformed Fox News viewer I wrote her a private note explaining that I've been following this issue for years and have a pretty good idea of what I'm talking about. I explained the main benefits of the reforms brought by the ACA and genially offered to explain in further detail why they would be good for her, her mostly self-employed grown children, and her grand-children.

    Her response to me gave away the game. She said that she had no retirement saved up and said that while my generation would be "taken care of" (you know, Obama cares for his own through the power of socialism) Obamacare was taking money out of her pocket and she couldn't afford it (is it? I doubt it). Oh, and government has no business being in the healthcare business, she said. She knows this firsthand because she is on Medicare and it's very bureaucratic.

    So my aunt who had every advantage in life, who was born into the white middle class and was part of a professional dual income family her whole life; whose husband had a great job as an engineer for an automaker until he quit to become a financial advisor (bad move, it turns out); who inherited a valuable lake home and turned it into a bed and breakfast and then CHOSE to maintain two large, expensive homes for over fifteen years as she and her husband pursued different money-making ventures: and who is currently suckling from the government teat of Medicare - wants to prevent the uninsured who didn't have all those same advantages from catching a break because it might affect her premiums.

    And just to complete the profile, did I mention she's also wildly racist and thinks Obama is a secret Muslim socialist Black Panther, per her crazy chain emails?

    Her attitude - "screw the younger generation, I need mine" - was just so foreign and unthinkable to me that I didn't even understand what she meant ("I don't have a retirement but YOU'LL be taken care of) until I read your blog post. I find it shocking coming from parents and grandparents who self-identify as "family values" people but my aunt and her generational cohorts do in fact see the expansion of social programs as a zero-sum competition for limited resources in which they deserve to win because they are [white/Christians/patriots/insert conservative tribal identifier here].

    They view it this way, even though ironically they are likely to be beneficiaries of it were they just to take the time to look into it. They just don't want to take a chance of their nice, familiar benefits system being shaken up.

    I find the whole thing very ugly. If the WWII generation was the greatest generation then this one, the next one, was possibly the worst; self-absorbed, entitled, parochial, xenophobic, emotionally immature, and possessed of a mob-mentality to boot. Of course that's hyperbole: I know they aren't the only generation to express these qualities.

    I know it because I'm already seeing them develop in the next one.