Two days before the inauguration may be a bit late to bring it up,
but I find myself whining a little about Bill Clinton becoming
president. It's partly because I share Scott Stanfield's discomfort in
being unable, for the first time in 12 years, to say "Don't blame me. I
didn't vote for him." And it's partly because I share Garrison
Keillor's panic at being, for the first time ever, older than our Chief
But it's mainly because my sense of fair play has been offended:
Bill Clinton didn't wait his turn. Bill Clinton cut in line.
Look at this: FDR and Truman were born in the 1880s; Ike in the
1890s; LBJ in 1908; Reagan, Nixon, Ford, and JFK in the teens; Carter
and Bush in the 1920s. And Bill Clinton in the 1940s.
That's rightthe 1930s just got skipped over. That's the decade
of my birth, and I feel protective of it. God knows, somebody needs to
speak on its behalf.
Depression babies are the "Silent Generation," according to Neil
Howe and William Strauss, writing in last month's .Atlantic. They say
we "may become the first generation in American history never to produce
Some say we deserve to be left out because we've been the least
assertive generation the country has produced. We came of age between
WWII and Vietnam, and we were for the most part spectators to both, too
young for the war against fascism, too old to be drafted for the war in
Vietnamwhatever that was against. So we watched, and between wars
were cowed into silence by the McCarthyism we put up with in the 50s.
And that, our critics say, is what we do best: duck and cover
while others, older or younger, run the risks.
We've even turned to earlier generations for our literary
influences. If we had a representative model in the fiction we read, it
was Holden Caulfield, the narrator of The Catcher in the Rye who goes a
little crazy trying to keep from growing up and accepting responsibility
in an imperfect adult world. If we had a representative anti-hero in
the poetry we read, it was T.S. Eliot's wimpish J. Alfred Prufrock who
sings an ironic lovesong to himself to avoid commitment to anyone else.
We vibrate visibly when Prufrock says "I have seen the moment of my
greatness flicker,/And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and
snicker,/And in short, I was afraid." And we absolutely twitch when he
says "I have heard the mermaids singing each to each./I do not think
that they will sing to me."
So it's not surprising that a generation like that may be the first
to fail to produce a president, now is it?
It certainly doesn't surprise us Depression babies to be talked
about that way. I don't want to sound whiny, but when you're born in
the 30s, you don't expect life to be fair.
The Truth, Mainly
"I suppose we should have expected to be deprived of the
presidency," I tell my wife. "We got deprived of everything elseall
the respect in the forties, all the fun in the sixties. We imbibed
deprivation with our mother's milk."
"Um," she says. "You're sounding whiny again."
"When we were mere toddlers," I go on, "we were worried about where
our next bowl of pablum would come from. When Bill Clinton was a
toddler, he was worried about how to carry California. We never had a
"Pat Buchanan and Jerry Brown were born in the 30s," she says, "and
they got their chance. As I remember, you yourself got your chance when
you went down to ignominious defeat as a part of the Green Ticket in the
Lower South Platte Natural Resources District election in 1974. Maybe
Depression babies just aren't very appealing to voters."
"And why would that be, Miss Smartypants?" I ask.
"Well, if you're at all representative," she says, "they may have
imbibed more than deprivation with their mother's milk. They may have
imbibed an overdose of self pity. Maybe even when they drive late-model
cars and build vacation homes, they like worrying about where their
next bowl of pablum is coming from. Maybe they'd rather wallow around
in their sad little literary allusions than leaflet a precinct. Maybe
they've become immobilized by ironies and emasculated by insecurities."
My legs cross involuntarily when she says "emasculated," and I go
silent. I duck and cover. I think of mermaids singing to Bill Clinton
on Wednesday and, knowing that they will not sing to me, I break the
silence of my generation and whine a little.
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.