Generation Gap

I don’t entirely agree with Nayyera Haq’s assessment at CNN of how Joe Biden’s age cohort affects his character:

The mythos of Joe Biden is built around the advice given by parents of a certain age. “Hard work will get you ahead”: Biden overcame his childhood stutter by practicing speaking in front of the mirror. He received a scholarship and worked during law school to later become one of the youngest US senators at age 30. “You need to commit and follow through”: Biden served in the Senate for more than 35 years. “Chin up, be resilient”: When his first wife and daughter died in a horrific accident, Biden famously commuted from Delaware to Washington every day in order to spend time with his sons.

Biden’s persona appeals to the sensibilities of an elder generation and the character traits they admire. This identity is a big part of Biden’s pitch, one rooted in nostalgia for a bygone era: It’s Trump’s Make America Great Again, skewed toward decency and civility.

But Biden also exemplifies the worst qualities of our parents’ generation. Apologies don’t come easy to him. When Biden spoke to Anita Hill to express “his regret for what she endured” at the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee during Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings in 1991, he didn’t accept any personal accountability as the committee chairman. Hill, who did not think Biden’s words amounted to an apology, said she was dissatisfied by his efforts. To make matters worse, Biden later appeared on ABC’s “The View” and said, “I don’t think I treated her badly.”

but that may be because I disagree with her assessment of his age cohort, the Silent Generation, those born between 1925 and 1945. I found this:

Biden also exemplifies the worst qualities of our parents’ generation

amusing because, unless her parents were relatively old when she was born in 1981, her parents are probably Baby Boomers not Silent Generation like Joe Biden. I have a somewhat more pragmatic, rule-of-thumb approach for identifying different age cohorts. If you were a teenager during the Great Depression and you or your contemporaries fought in World War II, you’re Greatest Generation. If you were a kid during the Depression and/or World War II and your older siblings or your parents or their contemporaries fought in World War II, you’re Silent Generation. If you cannot remember a time without television, you’re a Baby Boomer.

My take on the Silent Generation is that they have an insecurity deep within them. They don’t know where their next meal is coming from. They don’t if dad will be called off to war or if he is if he’ll come home again. It may even be more unsettling when he does come home because he’s seen a lot at his young age and is unaccustomed to children. Members of the Silent Generation won’t let go because they can’t—they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

They may have pensions where those born later do not. Most of those who died during the Vietnam War were Silent Generation and it’s left a mark on them.

To put it into popular culture terms McGarrett (of the 1968 Hawaii 5-0) was Greatest Generation; Magnum is Silent Generation; Sonny Tubbs is a Baby Boomer.

3 comments… add one
  • Andy Link

    My Dad was born in 1925 and fought in WWII, so I suppose he is an edge case when it comes to a generational cohort. Both WWII and the Great Depression lasted with him for the rest of his life – PTSD for the former and frugality for the latter. Besides his house, almost the rest of my Dad’s assets were in T-Bills, which should tell you something. Even when he had money he was always more thrifty than anyone I knew from my own generation, much less the boomers. I’m thankful some of that thriftiness rubbed off on me.

    I think there’s another problem with fitting Biden into a generational cohort – the fact that he’s a lifelong politician. His life experience is atypical to all but a handful of Americans. If he can be generalized based on a cohort, it’s probably “politician” and not generation.

  • steve Link

    I would add into your calculus the Korean War, which we always forget. We lost a bout 60% as many lives as we did in Vietnam, and it was a war without a clear victory.


  • As I think I’ve mentioned, my mother’s uncle was one of the lucky few to have been called up for World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

    The early heavy casualties in the Korean War were mostly Greatest Generation. After that they were mostly Silent Generation.

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