Saturday, August 18, 2012

Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I'm sixty-four?

Recently I wrote a column intertwining my thoughts with lyrics from a Stephen Stills song, “For What It’s Worth.” One reader suggested that a theologian could have done better quoting academics and philosophers rather than some songwriter from the 1960’s. Another said Stills and I were both socialists! Uhg, as though being a liberal wasn’t bad enough?

The words and tunes of the music of the 1960s come easily when thinking of today’s political, theological, economic, or social issues. This week I turned 64. Beatles lyrics are on my aging mind.

When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now
Will you still be sending me a valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I'd been out 'til quarter to three, would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I'm sixty-four?

When Lennon and McCartney wrote those words, I was a 19-year-old disc jockey, spending my days spinning records including Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, on which this song appeared. Our generation bought the records that made icons of bands from Britain and others whose 60’s music still commands a huge market.

We were a part of a generation that defined a national ethic about war, civil rights, the environment, equality for women, freedom, and more. Because we were passionate about those things, so were the artists of the day. Contemporary music says much about contemporary concerns.

We were all under thirty when someone said, “Never trust anyone over 30!”  Now that we are all over sixty, we wonder whether to trust anyone under thirty. The admonition against trusting anyone over 30 has been variously attributed to Bob Dylan, Jerry Rubin, the Beatles, and Pat Boone (go figure…Pat Boone was over 30 the day he was born). Actually, I recall all of us saying it in unison one day in 1968.  It was after we watched the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Robert and John Kennedy, and Malcolm X, the war in Viet Nam taking life after life though most Americans opposed it, four little girls killed when a black church was bombed by white racists, the Cuyahoga River caught fire metaphoric of the pollution of the entire planet, police loosed their dogs on protesters in Alabama, Mississippi and Chicago and children denied entrance to a school by a southern governor who encouraged whites to spit on them.

Now we are referred to derisively as the “boomers.” We’re easy targets. Through no fault of ours, the troops came home after winning World War II and started having babies, lots of them, 76 million between 1946 and 1964, the “baby-boomer” years. Paul Begala, the CNN talking-head and adviser to Bill Clinton, America’s first baby-boomer president, wrote rudely in an Esquire Magazine article years ago, “The Baby Boomers are the most self-centered, self-seeking, self-interested, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing generation in American history.”

Unfair? It’s a mixed bag. One wag wrote recently in the New York Times. “Our ranks include the outsourcers of Bain and the wizards of the Wall Street casino, but also the entrepreneurial genius of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.”

They’ve turned on us because one of us reaches retirement age every 8 seconds, imposing an obligation on the Gen-Xers to pay for our Social Security and the other entitlements of old age. Fellow boomers, the truth is unavoidable. By our sheer numbers we’re putting extreme demands on a federal budget that cannot sustain us.

Willingness to sacrifice is a boomer characteristic. It’s time for us to be a part of the solution. Let’s model what we want from the wealthiest of the Gen-Xers. There are reasonable ideas we can support without pulling the rug from under the truly needy, e.g. raising the retirement age, reducing cost-of-living increases, means testing benefits, ending the temporary payroll tax decrease. If we do something, maybe the “self-centered, self-seeking, self-interested, self-absorbed, self-indulgent” generations that followed us will make sacrifices as well.

Together, we could be talking some real money.

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