This is the season of generational twaddle. At graduation ceremonies across the country, politicians, authors, actors and businessmen take to the stage to tell young people they are fantastic simply because they are young. This year, the ritual is more pathetic than usual because there's a presidential election in the offing. And because the current occupant of the White House won in 2008 in no small part due to his success with the "youth vote," he is desperate for them to repeat their blunder.
At the all-women's school Barnard College, President Obama spoke to the audience as if they were an undifferentiated mob of "Julias." I'm referring to the banally creepy imaginary everywoman the Obama campaign has conjured on its website to show that Uncle Sam is now both sugar daddy and husband to the women of America. "Now more than ever -- now more than ever," the president repeated, "America needs what you, the Class of 2012, has to offer." By which he meant their votes for him, of course. But he couched it in all sorts of familiar platitudes.
But in terms of naked pandering, few can match Vice President Joe Biden. Last week, he told a group of college students visiting the White House: "You're an incredible generation. And that's not hyperbole either. Your generation and the 9/11 generation before you are the most incredible group of Americans we have ever, ever, ever produced."
Here's a tip: When you hear Biden say, "And that's not hyperbole," you can be sure it's hyperbole. Actually, here's an even better tip: If Biden's lips are moving, assume it's hyperbole.
The conventional response to this sort of thing is to claim that Biden is giving short shrift to some previous generation. What about the "Greatest Generation" of the World War II era? What about the self-proclaimed baby boomer secular saints of the '60s?
But such arguments are part of the problem. Sure, we can talk about age cohorts and make generalizations about them. But in a very important sense, there really is no such thing as "great generations."
I was born the same year as Brett Favre, one of the most successful quarterbacks in football history. I take no more pride in his record than I feel shame for being born the same year as Divine Brown, the porn star and former prostitute who was arrested for her work with Hugh Grant. Cult murderer psychopath Charles Manson, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, "Brady Bunch" mom Florence Henderson and that guy from NPR, Carl Kassel, were all born the same year (1934). What does one person's birth tell us about the life of another? Absolutely nothing.