View original document

The full text on this page is automatically extracted from the file linked above and may contain errors and inconsistencies.

For release on delivery
10 : 00 a.m., EDT
May 29, 1993

Surviving Boomer Politics
Address by
Lawrence B. Lindsey
The 188th Commencement of Bowdoin College
Brunswick, Maine
May 29, 1993

Surviving Boomer Politics

Last fall, when I received a letter from President Edwards
telling me about the honor Bowdoin is bestowing on me, my first
reaction was to be flattered.

My second reaction was that I'm

not old enough. After all it was barely yesterday that I sat
where you're sitting.

All right it was 17 years ago.

And I

don't want any of the smart alecks among you to tell me that most
of next year's freshmen weren't even born when I graduated.


it was not my grey hairs or the fact that forty seems downright
young these days that got me over the shock of getting an
honorary degree.

It was the realization that my generation, the

Baby Boom, is now assuming power in this country.
The first Boomer Vice President was elected in 1988.

We got

our generation's first Supreme Court Justice in 1991, the year I
joined that other grey beard Washington institution -- the
Federal Reserve Board.

Last year we elected our first boomer

President along with a Vice President two years his junior.
Those elections also produced a Boomer plurality in the House of

And as modesty is not among our generational

virtues, you will hear self confident talk at Boomer dinner
parties in Washington about how we will be in charge for the next
three decades.
I do admit to a sense of smug generational self-satisfaction
that we've finally tossed the old folks -- the ones who caused
all of the world's problems -- into their well deserved

There was never any doubt in my generation's

collective conscience that this day would come.
belief was that it would not come soon enough.
-- we've made it.

Frankly, our
Well, we're here

Why then am I beginning to get a little

Why do I call my talk Surviving Boomer Politics?

Boomers are doers.

We want results.

performance not process.
both big and small.

Our focus is

This affects our behavior on issues

Too big a trade deficit with Japan?


the international arbitration processes that America has promoted
for four decades.

Instead, why not choose a trade deficit target

and threaten to enforce it unilaterally with U.S. law?

Or take

that Watergate era reform called "Government in the Sunshine".
At the Fed, a distinctly non-Boomer institution, we take it

Whenever four of the seven Governors find themselves

together in the hall, we make sure that one of us leaves so as
not to have a quorum present.


Perhaps, but its the law.

Some of my fellow Boomers were assigned the task of developing a
health care policy.

Driven by the importance of the issue and

the need to produce results, these Boomers simply assumed the law
didn't apply.

The Federal Judge involved, not a Boomer, called

such behavior "stunning".

Or when an ethics rule threatened

attendance at a major Washington social event, the Boomer
approach was to simply suspend the ethics rule for a year.
As a generation we view these rules as written to address
the corruption of another generation.
to apply to us.

They really weren't meant

Remember, we were at the barricades protesting

the abuses of Johnson and Nixon.

That experience also helps us

to know from a generational point of view, that we're right.
We've been nursing our sense of moral certitude - - o n both the
left and the right -- ever since we were teenagers.
Howe and Strauss, in their book Generations talked about
other eras when morally certain generations like the Boomers ran

Our generational type burned the witches at Salem,

brought on the Civil War and enacted Prohibition.

Today my

cohorts practice their exorcisms by managing the Political
Correctness movements on college campuses.

As for Prohibition, I

have no doubt about my generation's ability to end America's evil
nicotine habit through a combination of taxation, regulation, and
social approbation.
As for our Civil War, it has been and is still being fought
between interest groups, think tanks, and Congressional staffers
on both the left and the right.

One boomer Congressional leader

whom I greatly respect, explained it with a parallel to
Clauswitz's observation that diplomacy is simply war by other

Politics, he claims, is simply Civil War by other means.

It is shocking to observe the number of jobs which exist in
Washington simply to advance a particular cause at all costs.
The ranks of these jobs are held by Boomers in a promotion system
in which success is determined simply by a capacity to destroy
your opponent.
This vicious side of political life has made its way into
public consciousness over some key confirmation fights.


personification of policy disputes makes the abstract principles

involved understandable to every man and woman and so are
intentionally used to polarize the nation - - not to mention to
collect funds from an otherwise apathetic public to pay for the
armies on both sides.

One victim of this process aptly likened

it to a public lynching.
Personifying a policy dispute requires the creation of a

The mortal involved must take on superhuman abilities.

We were told in one confirmation fight that the nominee's
approval would mean that women would die in back alleys and lunch
counters would again become segregated.
should be considered laughable.

Such rhetorical excess

Instead, it brought in hundreds

of millions of dollars to the groups which used such arguments.
My assigned mission today was to advise you on how to be
successful in my profession.

My concerns with the potential

excesses of my generation lead me to two suggestions.

The first

is, for your own self interest, do not make politics your main

Consider it an avocation.

To protect your ego, not

to mention feed your family, you should always have an out, a
career to which you can return.

Besides, the experience that you

gain will stand you in good stead.

The boomer model of beginning

your campaign for the Presidency at age 16 may well be the best
way to get elected by the time you're 46.

But for most who

choose this course, it is statistically more likely to lead to an
empty life of bitter disappointments.
My second suggestion is more high minded.

Your generation

will at some point in the future be called upon to replace us


The country will not be demanding a replay of our

mistakes but a change of pace.

If you are to succeed where we

are likely to fail, it will be by returning civility to the
political process.

The Republic is impoverished every time an

honorable man or woman is bloodied by becoming the
personification of a political dispute.

Please, you must

personally renounce the public lynching approach to political
discourse that my generation has adopted in our roles of interest
group leaders and Congressional staffers.

You must set America's

politics on a more civil footing by respecting the honor and the
privacy of those with whom you disagree.
If indeed politics is Civil War by other means, let us
recall the lessons from when our national politics did indeed
turn into Civil War.

Our Nation's President urged a resolution

based on charity for all and malice toward none.

His death, and

the subsequent rejection of his approach led to a needless
division of our country which lasted almost a century and from
which we still suffer today.
We Boomers are too fixed in our ways, we have practiced our
blood sport too long to realistically expect a cessation of

To date, the accidents of history have meant that

it has been the Left of my generation which has savaged the

Soon we will witness a reversal of this savagery, and

even those of us on the Right who might counsel moderation will
see the spectacle as a form of turnabout -- fair play.
That is why you must renounce the personification of

politics before you too use it as a weapon.

Within any

generation, it is a Genie which, once let out of the bottle, is
impossible to dispose of.

But, they say that time heals all

Certainly the passage of political power from one

generation to another offers our great country a chance for
Today we use that opportunity to end an era mired in process
and compromise in which nothing seems to get done.

In its place

we Boomers will establish an era based on achieving the ends
themselves, with much less concern about the means to those ends.
Sooner than you think, your generation's opportunity will
come to renew our institutions.

You will inherit an America with

a renewed sense of purpose, perhaps an excess of purposes.
Government will cease to be thought of as lethargic and
bureaucratic, and more as frenetic.

Most important, the price of

having established social justice may well be a legacy of many
individual injustices.

This is the America which will require

your generation's healing touch, your generation's energy for

I believe that you will succeed at your mission, as my

generation will have succeeded at ours.

But, to do so

effectively, you must first understand the dangers of Boomer
Politics and renounce the political tactics we Boomers have
adopted all too easily.

Thank you.