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Bedtime for Boomers

Hating on the young is bipartisan

Lately, a rash of punditry has noted that the American constitutional system is not merely sclerotic in its core operations but in the makeup of its lead personnel. A controversial New Yorker cover depicted the country’s brand-name contestants for maximum political power clattering through a foot race with walkers—and tellingly, the point of controversy wasn’t the overall decrepitude of the field but the use of walkers to symbolize it. “Ableist” and “ageist” went representative social media denunciations.

The death of ninety-year-old California senator Dianne Feinstein triggered fresh discussions of measures such as term limits and public disclosure of medical records to ensure that powerful elected officials don’t lose their grip on their whereabouts and general capacity to process information, as Feinstein reportedly had. And octogenarian president Joe Biden has triggered a seemingly endless round of pundit hand-wringing now that he’s reached an age where hair plugs can only take him so far. (Comparatively little fretful punditry has been devoted to the cognitive powers of the seventy-seven-year-old already positioned to be Biden’s chief rival in this year’s presidential balloting, even though he’s lately started to deliver rudimentary orthographic insights and confuse fellow autocratic world leaders with one another on the stump.)

In part, of course, all of this anxiety over “the age issue” in our public life can be attributed to the inexhaustibly self-enamored state of Trump’s baby boom generation. The geriatric condition of our country’s leadership class is of a piece in many ways with the decaying state of the culture at large, with Joyce Carol Oates emerging as a queen of social media memes and the Rolling Stones recording their first original album in eighteen years, shimmying and strutting in the grinning face of the Reaper. When Michael Caine announced his retirement at the age of ninety, it seemed less like he was graciously closing the book on a distinguished career than leaving the Batman franchise in the lurch.

Still, it wasn’t a boomer who famously reconfigured American assumptions about aging and political leadership; nor was it a member of the famously stoic pre-boomer “silent generation,” to which our current president, while boomer-coded, actually belongs. No, it was Ronald Reagan, who arrived on Earth during the Edwardian age. Reagan ran for reelection in 1984 at what now seems like the sprightly age of seventy-three, and in his first presidential debate with Democratic nominee Walter Mondale, the Gipper had showed worrying signs of not-with-itness, stumbling over basic policy points and failing to see sentences he’d launched to anything resembling an intelligible conclusion. In the wake of Reagan’s harrowing performance, Mondale believed he could close the formidable gap separating him and the incumbent in the polls, incautiously proclaiming at a post-debate rally that “today, we have a brand new race.”

By the time of the follow-up debate, a great deal of speculation still hovered around Reagan’s advanced age and his suitability for a second term. (Reagan’s team, meanwhile, ensured that reporters knew he was busy on his California ranch chopping logs and sawing them into firewood, in suitably virile-to-phallic fashion.) When one debate panelist, Henry Trewhitt, broached the age question, he recalled how John F. Kennedy had to go virtually sleepless over much of the duration of the Cuban Missile Crisis; given that Reagan’s own aides reported that their boss appeared to be wiped out after the first debate with Mondale, could Reagan confidently tell the country that he could tap into that sort of stamina?

True to form, Reagan tilted his head back in that folksy way of his and, beyond a pro forma introductory assurance, simply sidestepped the question. Instead, he delivered what’s universally been treated as a knockout blow—or a “mic drop,” as the reliably excitable MSNBC election correspondent Steve Kornacki titled his YouTube video on the exchange. “I will not make age an issue of this campaign,” Reagan said. “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” The audience broke out laughing, as indeed did Mondale himself. “He has said since then that that moment, he knew the election was over and that was it,” Kornacki says, marveling at the “great line.”

In reality, though, this set piece debuted something far more durable and momentous than a gotcha debate line: it showcased an anti-government ideologue elected on outsider credentials professing scorn for the established professional channels of political authority; you could squint your eyes at the exchange and picture Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton performing in Reagan and Mondale’s place. The exchange captured a formative changing-of-the-guard moment in our politics, whereby age became less a question of physical stamina and mental acuity, as in the carefully phrased question Trewhitt initially put to Reagan, and more of a floating signifier, taken up and discarded according to its suitability as culture-war fodder.

In Reagan’s glib phrasing, you can pick up later boomer-branded dismissals of the rude limits on dignity, ambition, and power imposed by the aging process, from “fifty (or sixty or seventy) is the new thirty” to “age is just a number.” One ironic legacy of that moment is that it is now Mondale’s Democrats who are most forcefully identified with rigid gerontocratic rule from above, while Reagan’s GOP routinely cannibalizes its young leadership, spits out the bones, and moves on to fresh quarry.

You can descry the demented logic of this right-wing reflex in the quasi-fascist iconography rendering the obese and doddering Donald Trump as a ripped commando, wrestler, or vengeance-dealing messiah figure. While Trump is, in his third run for the presidency, five years older than Reagan was in 1984, he’s depicted not only as an energetic disruptor of the status quo on a scale Reagan could have never imagined but also as a child-rescuing superhero-cum-savior. Only Trump, per the QAnon end-times fantasy that’s since become gospel for a major swath of the GOP, can redeem the birthright republic of the MAGA elect from the grasping, immoral predations of a child-enslaving, adrenochrome-swilling liberal cabal, literally sacrificing future generations to its debauched dream of moral license and vampiric immortality. Just how we got from the glib, table-turning rejoinder of an aging Reagan to this harrowing vision of liberal politics as a force that feeds on the destruction of future generations is a tangled, only-in-America saga of culture war pursued to the point of mass derangement.

Hart of the Nation

It bears noting that Reagan’s applause line was absurd on the face of things, since in no known universe was Walter Mondale an untested voice of youth and inexperience. The former Minnesota senator had served as Jimmy Carter’s vice president, to be sure, but more than that, he was a dutiful water carrier and timeserver for his party, who, by the common calculation of political desert, had earned his shot at the White House by patiently accruing party seniority. Mondale had put in many long hours advancing the agenda of his betters in Democratic politics, most notably fulfilling the demands of his political mentor and predecessor, Minnesota senator Hubert Humphrey.

Octogenarian president Joe Biden has triggered a seemingly endless round of pundit hand-wringing now that he’s reached an age where hair plugs can only take him so far.

But you didn’t need to know Mondale’s résumé to know that he was no avatar of a Democratic Party youth movement—all you had to do was to follow his fight for the nomination earlier that year. His chief rival was Colorado senator Gary Hart, who assiduously positioned himself as an apostle of “new ideas” in a Democratic Party too beholden to Great Society policies and interest group politics. Hart had earlier managed George McGovern’s 1972 campaign operation, staffed by such political hopefuls as Bill and Hillary Clinton, and like that fabled power couple, he concluded that the lesson of McGovern’s blowout defeat was that the Democrats had to reinvent themselves as a forward-looking party of entrepreneurship and narrowcasted policy innovation in order to draw in a different donor base and mint themselves a new business-friendly image for the go-go eighties.

Hart, who very nearly bested Mondale for the nomination, generated a great deal of media interest as pundits tried to sketch the socioeconomic profile of his power base in the party. Initially, he was conscripted into the vanguard of a vague but influential grouping dubbed “the Atari Democrats,” thanks to their fascination with tech- and data-based solutions to social problems, and their embrace of a broad policy approach that would long be catnip to future party elites: cultural tolerance combined with tax breaks and other subsidies to the investment economy. When the clunky Atari sobriquet failed to take, political savants moved on to another designation. The Hart nation then represented the rise to power of the yuppie.

As he helped shape the policy preferences and cultural affiliations of this insurgent new demographic, Hart seemed like the political equivalent of a smart bomb that failed to detonate. He was prone to delivering vague generational bromides at the expense of expansive visions of social justice or renewed moral purpose for the country; in one of Mondale’s only memorable debate ripostes during the primary cycle, he dismissed the Colorado technocrat’s romance with “new ideas” by invoking a popular slogan for the burger chain Wendy’s: “Where’s the beef?” For the most part, though, Mondale leaned on the Democratic Party’s power structure to deliver him the nomination the old-fashioned way: by lining up support from election officials and party kingpins, notably union leaders in the Northeast and Midwest. He was also able to turn recent primary reforms enacted to guard against another left-leaning capture of the nomination like McGovern’s to his advantage. In 1970, McGovern, who chaired the committee tasked with reforming nominating conventions, recommended new procedures such as ensuring that designated “superdelegates” would play an outsize role in selecting and confirming presidential nominees.

If this all sounds queasily familiar, don’t suppose that Hart played the role of Bernie Sanders to Mondale’s Hillary Clinton. No, that was the grim fate allotted to 1984 candidate Jesse Jackson, whose “rainbow coalition” candidacy combining demands for substantive racial reform and economic populism was the more pressing threat to the Democratic establishment and thus subject to a sustained campaign of institutional marginalization. Despite winning 18 percent of the primary vote, Jackson netted significantly fewer delegates under the party’s new nominating regime. Jackson held Mondale in principled scorn—both for the 1984 power play and for the Minnesotan apparatchik’s disgraceful role in sidelining the civil rights activists aligned with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the Atlantic City DNC convention twenty years earlier. At a preconvention speech to the United States Conference of Mayors, Jackson pointedly declared that Hubert Humphrey was “the last significant politician out of St. Paul-Minneapolis.”

For all its superficial aura of generational conflict, pitting the future-oriented yuppies against the old-guard labor chieftains and ward bosses of the party, the Mondale-Hart throwdown was really a question of dueling meritocracies: the party chieftain’s model of elite rule holding activists and Black and Hispanic voters at strategic arm’s length in Mondale’s case, and the financialized, yuppified model of deregulated capitalism in Hart’s. While the newfound “yuppie” designation, together with the vibes-driven clamor for “new ideas,” gave Hart a mediagenic impression of youthfulness, in reality, Mondale and Hart weren’t on the far sides of a generational divide at all. The Colorado senator was just eight years younger than his Minnesota counterpart. What separated the two candidates was their vision of how political power should be stockpiled and disbursed. Mondale, who came up through Minnesota’s Farmer-Labor Party, relied on typical vote-brokers such as union leaders and the heads of traditional extractive industries because that was the dominant model of Democratic electoral politics—at least until Ronald Reagan came along and harnessed the cultural resentments of white ethnic working-class voters to the GOP’s long-term advantage.

Hart, meanwhile, had shared with many other of the era’s Democratic leaders and strategists a horror of the alleged excesses of movement politics. In the place of the old, loud, and entitlement-addicted interest groups, Hart and other rising “New Democrats” theorized, would be affluent and savvy go-getters of the eighties vintage—well-educated and credentialed, settled in coastal cities and financial centers, and appreciative of a new and chastened role for government in managing the course of American prosperity. People very much like them, in other words.


An elderly person with a cane kneels with scissors to cut water droplets shaped like human heads.
© Sebastian König

Rage Against the Teen

Mondale’s narrow defeat of Hart proved to be little more than a holding maneuver for the old Democratic establishment. Come 1988, Democrats nominated a pluperfect technocratic specimen, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, author of the “Massachusetts Miracle” along Route 128 in the gilded new tech corridors in and around Boston. Even though Dukakis lost to the comically weak and patrician George H. W. Bush—in nearly every respect, the Walter Mondale of the old Republican business elite—the die was now cast.

In time, the new managerial elite of the party would cluster around the Democratic Leadership Council, which first took shape in the wake of Mondale’s historic 1984 drubbing with the sole aim of ensuring Democrats would retake the Oval Office after the Reagan years. Hart’s old McGovern-campaign colleague Bill Clinton would be the standard-bearer for this thoroughgoing transformation of Democratic Party politics. Clinton announced his ascension to the national political scene as a youth movement, drilling the horrifying Fleetwood Mac anthem “Don’t Stop” into the brainpan of a traumatized America and holding court before MTV and Arsenio Hall studio audiences. Clinton somehow made the shibboleths making up Hart’s “new ideas” seem incisive and fresh, even though he was pivoting the Democratic Party into a suite of moderate Republican policy stands—some of which proved not to be all that moderate, as his repeal of welfare, his disastrous deregulation of the paper economy, and his enthusiastic embrace of all things carceral made painfully clear.

The Democrats aligned firmly behind the vision of a new information-based political economy that Hart had helped pioneer. Virtually every national Democratic leader who came in Hart’s wake, from Al Gore and John Kerry to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, would follow that same policy playbook. Amazingly, even after the Clinton-era orgy of deregulation nearly tanked the world economy, the basic mandate to continue generously deregulating the party’s Information Age donor base was left magisterially intact.

Boomers in power long to be both market rebels and cultural disciplinarians.

One curious collateral effect of this comprehensive rebranding effort was that a genuine generational conflict did finally develop—only it involved boomer liberal political figures punching down the life cycle and waging a long-running culture war against American teens. This had been an early New Democrat franchise going back to Tipper Gore’s inquisitorial campaign against suggestive and/or morally dubious rock and hip-hop lyrics. But with the 1999 school massacre in Littleton, Colorado, there was a new energy behind this youth obsession; the virtuecratic wing of the party went into power-scolding overdrive. President Clinton convened a blue-ribbon investigation into the cultural origins of youth violence; Hillary Clinton fatefully floated the fallacious, baldly racist thesis that a new strain of “superpredator” youth was poised to wreak unprecedented mayhem across the republic. Solemn policy professionals and social scientists whaled away at the alleged moral breakdown of the younger set—even though most social indicators showed that the teens of the nineties were graduating high school, volunteering, reading, and generally behaving themselves at a record clip. From 1990 to 1999, teen homicides declined by 62 percent; rapes in which adolescents were charged were down 27 percent; and teen-perpetrated violent crime declined by 20 percent. Meanwhile, the same period saw teen sexually transmitted diseases go down by 50 percent and drunken driving charges plummet by 35 percent; births to teen parents declined 17 percent, and abortions went down 15 percent.

The overperforming predators in most of these categories, it turned out, were the very boomers who had elected to demonize their offspring. To take just the most lurid statistic, nineties adults were killing kids at the rate of five per day, as their broad generational cohort was busy convincing themselves that goth attire and internet chat rooms were the incubators of uncontrollable and civilization-threatening mayhem. Annual adult-perpetrated “rage killings” of kids, usually committed within the sacrosanct hearth of the American family, numbered between two and three thousand in the late nineties, according to the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect. While violence-related deaths in schools had remained essentially static since the 1970s, the parental murder of children doubled over that same time. And even that estimate was a serious undercount; in 1999, the American Medical Association found that deaths from child abuse were going underreported by nearly 60 percent.

The dramatic mismatch here went well beyond past moral panics about the unmoored appetites of American teens, like the congressional comic book inquisition of the 1950s and the counterculture rebellions of the 1960s. The overlapping nineties teen scares were both gruesome acts of psychological projection on the part of boomer parents who regarded challenges to their authority as nothing short of existential, and a renewable moral crusade for a therapeutic-managerial class of political and nonprofit foundation leaders. The absurdist character of all this loose talk of media-captive generational warfare became painfully apparent during the 1992 campaign cycle. Then, Dan Quayle, in his role as George H. W. Bush’s dimwitted attack-dog surrogate, actually tried to blame the Los Angeles riots on the sitcom character Murphy Brown, who modeled the mores of reckless single motherhood that somehow manifested themselves in the violent uprising in South Central in the wake of a jury verdict acquitting a racist group of cops. Not be outdone, Democratic nominee Bill Clinton chose to dramatize his own sober racial sagacity by picking a gratuitous fight with a rapper in her late twenties—in the process launching an entire cottage industry in the punditocracy organized around the ritualized demand for a “Sistah Souljah” moment anytime they caught the scent of something too racially or generationally distressing in the American civitas. Such cost-free posturing against evidently all-powerful media figures meshed perfectly with the rolling child-improvement crusade, driven by the robust elite impulses to pathologize and heal, preferably at the going rates that the Gates and Ford foundations, marshaled behind the gatekeeping authority of the White House, would support.

Such blankly ludicrous policy initiatives served to dramatize the having-it-both-ways agenda at the core of boomer liberal politics: the Democratic leadership caste had to safeguard, at all costs, their image as innovative apostles of “new ideas” and energetic market disruption. At the same time, however, they needed to assert their authority as market keepers against the backdrop narrative of rampant child imperilment; the latter posture conferred a vital moral authority not to be had through the administration of microloans and investment-banking mergers. And just as important, it effectively embalmed the boomer political cohort’s image as definitional reformers, since the proven path to a political franchise on the country’s future was to always know what’s best for the nation’s young. Again, the figure of Hillary Clinton is paradigmatic. She began her public-interest law career as an advocate of “children’s rights,” and launched her national political brand with the child-centric policy tract It Takes a Village—while also fulminating over the nonexistent “superpredator” plague and bemoaning how television and the internet were transforming a generation of students into school shooters.

In this worldview, civic-minded child-rearing, like every other social problem, was ultimately a managerial challenge. Young people are there to be fixed by the moral wisdom of their elders. When they can’t be fixed, they must be grimly handed over to the carceral state. Boomers in power long to be both market rebels and cultural disciplinarians, and the last generation’s worth of political consensus has made that dream come true; hence the near-universal spectacle of septuagenarian and octogenarian political leaders asserting a de facto monopoly on the idea of revolution and reform.

Save the Children

It’s a cliché of Trump-era liberal polemics that the child obsession on the right is, like so many other lurid fantasies of the MAGAverse, an act of projection, given the wide array of GOP politicians and evangelical figures who’ve been caught preying sexually on the young. There’s of course something to this surmise, given the overall frequency by which predators pose as seekers after justice. But projection alone doesn’t mobilize a movement on the scale of QAnon and the Trump MAGA cult. On closer inspection, the child-endangerment narratives on the liberal and right wing share a striking affinity, rooted as they are in the same set of boomer-sanctioned generational grievances.

Both the MAGAverse and the liberal establishment share a pronounced antipathy for their young. Trump has taken to joking on the stump that many of his followers should be grateful for his proposed repeal of the estate tax, even—or perhaps especially—if they should choose to disinherit their offspring. The impulse to depict children as pure and innocent victims of fathomlessly evil liberal predation isn’t so much an act of compassion as a ploy for total moral ownership of the young—in much the same way that Victorian-era Americans launched a cottage industry of creepy devotional literature and iconography memorializing their dead children. The discomfiting truth is that the Q-sanctioned image of the defiled child is not all that far afield from the neoliberal image of the culturally endangered one. In one instance, the ideal-type child in question is a martyr, and in the other, it is a client. In neither account is the figure of the child all that recognizably human.

The child-endangerment narratives on the liberal and right wing share a striking affinity, rooted as they are in the same set of boomer-sanctioned generational grievances.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party’s senior leadership has spent much of the past decade of political realignment bemoaning the alleged excesses of the party’s youthful progressive base, insisting that the task of reform should be entrusted to the incremental workings of neoliberal market modulation rather than the angry, insistent forces of direct action and grassroots change. (The death of Feinstein resurfaced a viral video from 2019 in which the California senator lectured a group of school kids in her office that sweeping climate reforms just weren’t realistic or feasible in the present state of congressional play; revealingly, it won praise from liberal and right-wing commentators alike, in yet another reminder that disdain for the young remains a foundational point of consensus in our politics.) In everything from the Biden administration rearguard actions on student debt forgiveness to privately administered health care provision to the phasing out of the pandemic’s welfare-state supports, the stay-the-course mandate has given the party’s young progressive base less and less to support. Biden’s polling among young voters has tanked accordingly.

The Trumpified GOP and the liberal gerontocrats also share an abiding, dogmatic distrust of the American university as an alleged breeding ground of “cancel culture,” tribal “woke” sentiment, and other brands of groupthink hellbent on destroying First Amendment freedoms and traditions of open inquiry. The generational consensus on this question stretches in a virtually uninterrupted line from Quillette, City Journal, and Bari Weiss’s The Free Press on the intellectual right to Liberties, The Atlantic, and the New York Times op-ed section on the liberal end of the spectrum. Here, too, the undeviating, ironically orthodox character of the resentments aired among these youth-baiting intellectuals flattens out actual dissent and political and moral agency among the young subjects outfitted with cartoonishly censorious dogmas for the unseemly moral titillation of the old.

In the wake of the Hamas attacks that sparked Israel’s war on Gaza in October, this unlovely ideological outlook became exponentially more inquisitorial, as youth-baiting intellectuals sought to transform the ill-specified forces of “wokeness” into a rolling apologia for ethnic cleansing. Octogenarian military scholar Edward Luttwak, for example, took to the platform formerly known as Twitter with this delusional broadside: “The pro-Hamas follies at US universities combine four phenomena: resentment of Jewish students by the untalented, Third Worldism on autopilot, Muslim solidarity based on the only thing all can share: anti-Zionism, and the now institutionalized cowardice of administrators.” This is a laughable description of a university system in which major state schools are shedding humanities departments at a stupefying rate, and where business and health-related fields are the two most popular majors by a wide margin. The elite fantasia holding that the U.S. student population operates in a zombie-like trance of “wokeness” is not unlike the allied fear on the right that, as of this writing, Taylor Swift is marshalling an ideological takeover of professional football.

Still, the profound power-scolding reflex continues spinning into new registers of self-referential mania. Hedge-fund billionaire Bill Ackman (technically a borderline Gen-Xer at fifty-seven) also encouraged the circulation of the names of students critical of Israel on social media so employers could avoid “inadvertently” hiring them. Elsewhere on campus, former Maryland governor Larry Hogan resigned his sinecure at the donor-sluicing Harvard Kennedy School over the anti-Israel protests. This was a true moment of generational elite consensus on autopilot, since Hogan had been welcomed into Harvard’s ivied sanctum on the strength of his alleged Never Trump political bona fides, positioning himself as the augur of some entirely fanciful future realignment of reasoned discourse on the American right. But as the lessons of the nineties-era realignment forcefully underline, the only sturdy bipartisan consensus in our politics involves hating on the young.

In Heaven Everything is Fine

Just as Mondale proved to be not all that young, Reagan never appeared all that old, at least in the broad, all-forgiving arena of political symbolism. (In reality, the second-term chief executive was often dithering off to the side of the main action in the White House, which lent credibility to his claim that he knew virtually nothing of the Iran-Contra scandal in real time.) Reagan’s principal political asset was his protean sense of self—the actor’s gift of convincingly inhabiting any role, no matter how contrived or credulity-defying it might seem on paper. As Michael Rogin chronicled in his book Ronald Reagan: The Movie, Reagan often had difficulty distinguishing his make-believe professional life from the real thing. He had, for example, apparently persuaded himself that he had served in World War II on the basis of several wartime film projects he starred in.

As the lessons of the nineties-era realignment forcefully underline, the only sturdy bipartisan consensus in our politics involves hating on the young.

But the Gipper’s advancing dotage never proved to be a serious political liability, and not just because of the debate-stage zinger he delivered in late October 1984. Popular pliability had long been his calling card, from his early public career as a New Deal president of the Screen Actors Guild down through his postwar tenure as a leased mouthpiece for General Electric, the Goldwater campaign, and laissez-faire dogmas of all description. Reagan was, in other words, too indefatigably winsome to regard the specter of aging at all seriously—a blessing of sorts, one assumes, as he succumbed to Alzheimer’s in his retirement. But his not-quite-all-there mien was a permanent coping mechanism as he overcame the traumas of a childhood steeped in poverty under the thumb of an alcoholic father and moved into his adult career as an on-call confector of popular imagery. In addition to serving as the prophet of the modern conservative revolution, Reagan was the nation’s premier political imagineer, evoking the promise of frontier-style individualism in the face of the besetting impersonal prerogatives of the corporate state, the Cold War, and the financialized political economy. (In this as in so many other ways, he was a John the Baptist-style precursor to Trump’s messianic hold on the boomer right, which not only has permitted a Fauntleroy heir to a mobbed-up Manhattan real-estate fortune to pose as a horny-handed “populist” son of toil but also created a phony aura of world-conquering vigor around a man who can barely steer a golf cart without becoming short of breath.) Reagan’s communications team knew what it was doing when it counterprogrammed the debacle of that first Mondale debate with reports chronicling the Gipper sawing wood in a cowboy hat.

As it happened, Reagan landed his first professional media gig in my hometown of Davenport, Iowa, as a radio announcer for the NBC affiliate owned by the Palmer College of Chiropractic (the station’s call letters were WOC, for “world of chiropractic”). The young Gipper aced his audition by pretending to commentate a football game, going on to file sports dispatches in a kitsch-bedecked studio on the college grounds. Dr. B. J. Palmer, the college’s founder, was a serial get-rich-quick grifter with ambitions to be a culture hoarder on the model of William Randolph Hearst but was cursed with abysmal taste. The public garden on the grounds of Palmer College is called “A Little Bit ‘O’ Heaven”; the WOC studios were an extension of that project housed in a space decorated with taxidermy wildlife and a Buddhist shrine. Reagan clearly took to both the work and the mental environment; William Kleinknecht, in his Reagan biography, The Man Who Sold the World, cites the testimony of a Hollywood girlfriend of the Gipper: “I always had the feeling that I was with him but he wasn’t with me.”

That is, increasingly, the feeling that our boomer-minted generation of political leaders is leaving all of us with. It’s fortunate for them, I suppose, that they’ve already plotted out the rationale for a world in which younger generations don’t deserve anything better.