JFK and Self-Absorbed Baby Boomers

Friday, November 15, 2013


Next week marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and countless books, articles, television specials and made for TV movies will no doubt commemorate the event. Bob speaks with Reason.com editor Nick Gillespie about how the media fascination with the fallen president has less to do with his impact on the country and more to do with the Baby Boomer generation's feeling of self-importance.


Nick Gillespie

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [14]


We're JFK's Eternal Flamers!

Jan. 19 2014 10:36 AM
Jim from Chicago

Mr. Gillespie is using the anniversary of JFK's death as an excuse to rant against baby boomers. His assertions are absurd. Since boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, they weren't old enough (or weren't even born yet) to have had any political impact during the Kennedy era.

Mr. Gillespie asserts that boomers "have had a very, very long time on the national stage." Does this assertion stand up to scrutiny? If President Obama (born on the cusp of Generation X) is counted as a GenXer, then only 3 out of the 18 presidential candidates since 1980 are boomers. Not a big number, especially considering that the oldest boomers will soon be 67. Five out of the 7 current Cabinet-level officers are GenXers, not boomers. And, if you consider Eric Cantor (born the same year as Mr. Gillespie, 1963) as a GenXer, then only one out of the 5 Congressional leaders (House and Senate majority and minority leaders and House Speakers) since 2008 is a boomer. Three of them are from the pre-boomer generation. Mr. Gillespie’s assertions have no factual basis.

Dec. 15 2013 11:51 PM

While I’m agnostic on whether Baby Boomers are self-absorbed, I’m glad Mr. Gillespie is drawing attention to the histrionics surrounding Kennedy’s murder. Born in 1973, I was fed a popular-culture narrative of Kennedy greatness for about the first half of my life. The historical significance of a public official, however, lies not just in the public’s attachment to him/her, but by his/her impacts on policies, geopolitics, etc. By this count, I see little to support the Kennedy adulation I grew up with.

Kennedy’s policy accomplishments are shrug-inducing. Yes, he took tentative steps on civil rights, launched the Apollo space program, and created the Peace Corps. But he put the first real numbers of U.S. troops into Vietnam. He also cranked up the CIA’s anti-democratic operations and assassinations worldwide, which no doubt contributed to the international hostility toward the United States we see today.

Not to say Kennedy and his death meant nothing. His personal appeal made him an important popular-culture figure. This made his shooting all the more affecting for some of the public. In addition, his murder spoke of its time, shattering some Americans’ illusions of a tidy post-WWII world, and illustrating 1953’s Cold War currents. Of course, the assassination of a sitting president is noteworthy in and of itself.

But the myth that some Baby Boomers have created around Kennedy and his death is disproportionate to the man, fuelled by an emotional connection to a popular-culture icon rather than by any policy legacy. Boomers fuming that Gillespie just doesn’t get it because he wasn’t old enough at Kennedy’s death to feel its emotional impact prove this point. For real proof of Kennedy’s timelessness, we need to look past infatuated Boomers and listen to whether succeeding generations find meaning in Kennedy’s works and life.

Nov. 20 2013 12:28 PM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

If anything, Camelot showed the CINO's - Conservative in Name Only - the path they needed to follow in order to rob the rest of us. They would roll back all the income gains made since the Taft Administration by following this principle.

From, 1963 to 1968 GDP rose from $654B to $900B (+38%) while average incomes failed to keep pace - $4,397 to $5572 (+27%). Kennedy famously cut tax rates yet the gov't deficit spent to fund the war and to go to the moon. This movement of national income without a equivalent rise in average income demonstrated a dangerous trend.

Flash forward to today - GDP is about $16 trillion, yet average income is only $44,200. If incomes had managed to 'keep up', the average income could have grown to $104,000! [a third less when you factor in population growth]

The Boomers - if guilty of anything - are guilty of not listening to our grandparents well enough the let the lesson of America's progressive struggle to bring about unions and better labor conditions sink in. How else can we explain supporting such a gross distortion of our principles of equity and income distribution.

If the trend established since 1963 - the CAGR of the GDP outpacing the CPI by two points - the economy will double in size every ten years, yet wages will take 16 and a half years to double. Extend that trend for another 50 years and what do you see happen? Except for the 1 per cent, the rest of us are all broke.

Nov. 20 2013 12:24 PM
Craig Clark from cliffside park nj

i have a problem with npr. you sidestep the whole issue of the assassination (an unsolved murder)--a veritable coup took place and you can only bring on guests who obfuscate the matter by blaming the woodstock generation's narcissism as reasoning for our obsession with jfk. i mean really, bob garfield, is this reporting on the media's refusal to report, investigate, and expose the cabal behind the event in dallas, 1963? why not talk about the peripheral tedium so no one learns anything!?! good job fellas! excellent journalism! luce would be proud of you.

Nov. 18 2013 11:56 AM
michael stoler from Oakland

wait ... the interviewee closed by saying, "The past cannot govern us, or else we will be governed by the past."

Can't argue with that. I mean, literally. Or, to put it another way, that cannot be argued with by us. It's a tautology. I guess that's why he calls his publication "Reason".

Nov. 18 2013 01:03 AM
Steve Maggi from Austin

OTM, couldn't you have gotten somebody more knowledgeable and neutral than axe-grinder, know-nothing Nick Gillespie and his Randroid Army? I don't care for JFK neither since he was no Liberal but Gillespie is one of the last people you should ever interview.

Nov. 17 2013 07:43 PM
Jim Surkamp

jfk's achievements? SPACE PROGRAM (microchip, solar, polyurethane, etc, etc.) hell-ooo!

Nov. 17 2013 06:46 PM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, Ca.

@Barry Feldman

Actually, the Libertarian Party was founded by boomers and slightly older people (like Karl Hess)...Jerome Tucille's description of the founding members as an assemblage of Randroids and anti-government New Lefties might not be entirely accurate, but not completely off the mark.

Though it was always largely a place for Republican boys who thought their chances of getting laid would be improved by re-branding, I thinkt he party went really off the rails into dead-on pro-business Republicanism once the large donations came in from some large sponsors, e.g. when David Koch (effectively) bought his Vice Presidential nomination with them (1080, I think).

To their credit, even the completely Republican L.P. people I know have nothing but disdain for the theocrats in what is (despite their protests) their actual party.

Nov. 17 2013 04:18 PM
Barry Feldman from New York City

Libertarians like Mr. Gillespie are the people who define "self-absorbed." Contrarily, it was the baby boom generation that fostered communes, health food cooperatives, and the human rights movements of African-Americans, gays, and women.

Nov. 17 2013 04:02 PM
RK from NYC

Does Mr. Gillespie think that us "baby boomers" named ourselves? I have no recollection of sitting up in my diapers and announcing, "I'm a boomer!"
His interpretation ignores the media that both recognized and created this too-good-to-be-true marketing opportunity, as well as (certainly here in NYC)the reality of needing to provide such things as more classrooms to accommodate us. That said, being born in 1946 meant that JFK was assassinated during my senior year in high school, and both Martin Luther King, Jr and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated during my senior year in college. Yes, those events have significantly shaped my world view.

Nov. 17 2013 03:47 PM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, Ca

What a pleasure to see Mr Gillespie inveigh against the attitudes and tropes that the Market has overwhelmingly validated for decades.

Presumably, this must be due entirely to Evil Government Interference.

(A mixed economy is _wonderful_ for absolutists on both sides: the Market (or the State) can be blamed for all that's bad, and the State (or the Market) credited for all that's good....)

Oh, and the Spanish-American War must be understood properly in order to understand the imperialism touted then in many quarters (for all that such were now a love that dare not say its name) about which I'd guess Mr Gillespie and I would largely agree...and LORD help you understand the Middle East if you decide that there is no more to learn from anything more than forty or so years back.

Nov. 17 2013 01:48 PM

According to the Census Bureau, the U.S. baby boom occurred between 1946 - 1963. My sister an I fall in the middle of that, born 18 months apart. We don't agree on ANYTHING and chose completely different life paths.

So if Society needs to let go of anything, it's the banal concept that all of those millions of people born across a span of nearly 20 years think and act alike. Quoting an inane comment by STEPHEN SPEILBERG to characterize us all? Give me a break.

But if we must work from generational stereotypes, I'd suggest that part of Mr. Gillespie's ire derives from the fact that he was too young at the time of Kennedy's assasination to have partaken in that period of great national mourning, and therefore doesn't like other people talking about an event that doesn't include him.

But take heart! At some point down the road, a younger generation will be whining they're tired of hearing him talk about where he was on 9/11.

Nov. 17 2013 09:51 AM
Marty Siegrist from Michigan

Guest Nick Gillespie's assumptions and simplistic generalizations about the baby boom generation are astonishing and unwarranted. He rather reminds me of that old joke about the tourist who said, "All Indians walk in single file. At least, the one I saw did."

Perhaps he needs to tear his gaze away from his own navel.

Nov. 16 2013 07:44 AM

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