No True Scotsman: Generation Game Edition

by John Quiggin on November 26, 2017

Following a “related stories” link, I found a 2014 piece from Dana Milbank which combines my favorite pet peeve, the Generation Game, with everyone’s favorite fallacy, No True Scotsman. I’m a bit late to the party, but I can’t resist such a tempting target.

Milbank wants to make the case that, unlike the great conciliators of the past and the cool, detached Generation X of which he is a member, Baby Boomers are given to a “scorched earth” conflict-driven style of politics. There’s just one problem. Most of Milbank’s villains (Pelosi, McConnell, Reid) were born before the baby boom, while the hero of his piece, Obama, is, sad to say, a Boomer. No problem, says Milbank, “generational boundaries are inexact”. Applying the No True Boomer test, Pelosi, McConnell, Reid are turned into Boomers, while Obama is promoted into Generation X. In these cases, the shift is only a year or so, but a moment’s thought would have provided Milbank with plenty of examples of scorched-earthers born five years or more outside the Baby Boom (Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch at one end, Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan at the other) and compromisers born in the middle of the Boom (Tim Kaine and the leading members of the DLC)

More to the point, the style of politics he’s talking about got its start with the Nixon-Buchanan Southern strategy “tear the country in half, and take the bigger half“. The fact that many of its most prominent practitioners are (mostly male) Boomers follows from the fact that they are currently the right age (roughly 55 to 70 depending on details) to occupy senior leadership in US politics.

{ 9 comments }

1

BruceJ 11.27.17 at 3:30 am

that stupid book by Strauss and Howe is easily as destructive and misleading as any of the racist shit Charles Murray emits. It’s such a easily believed utter pile of horseshit that it’s been mainstreamed into our culture.

2

Gareth Wilson 11.27.17 at 6:24 am

Obviously we need to treat Baby Boomerishness as a variable. Total Fertility Rate at the year of their birth, divided by cost of a four-year college degree expressed as a multiple of the minimum wage when they turn 18, times GDP growth rate when they graduate.

3

mary s 11.29.17 at 4:14 am

I don’t get this at all. The Party of Nixon is the scorched earth party. The Democrats are not. The Southern Democrats became Republicans. That changed each party’s internal dynamics, and (of course) the dynamic between the two parties.

4

John Quiggin 11.30.17 at 1:33 am

@3 Exactly right, but centrist commentators can’t admit this, and are happy to use generational cliches to evade the facts.

5

mjfgates 11.30.17 at 1:59 am

My main complaint about this stuff is that the first edition of the book ended the Boomers in 1965 and started Gen X in 1970, leaving five years worth of lost souls struggling for meaning. I don’t know whether to bankrupt Social Security by collecting too much, or never receive any at all.

6

John Quiggin 11.30.17 at 5:02 am

You could always do a merger with Generation Jones (the Boomers who missed out on the Long Boom).

7

bekabot 11.30.17 at 6:24 pm

Applying the No True Boomer test, Pelosi, McConnell, Reid are turned into Boomers, while Obama is promoted into Generation X.

According to Strauss and Howe, Generation X began in 1960; so, by their lights, Obama qualifies as an X-er. The way they explain it, the sociocultural force of the Boom ran out about five years before the mass babymaking ended. (Of course, this is a notion which can be interpreted as more…eccentricity…on their part.)

8

J-D 12.01.17 at 8:40 am

Apparently Dana Milbank thinks somebody born in 1942 can be ‘for practical purposes’ a Baby Boomer. Which practical purposes? If you can make a living by writing drivel and getting it published, is that a practical purpose?

9

TM 12.01.17 at 1:54 pm

With apologies, if I may correct a bizarre claim by Mario on the other now closed thread:

http://crookedtimber.org/2017/11/15/the-reactionary-mind-2nd-edition-meet-the-new-boss/#comment-723200

“In Gemany, the AfD was the strongest party among the working class – by a margin. It won big among unionized voters. The actual official left got most of its votes from the affluent.”

None of this claim come even close the truth. The AFD got 13% overall and 21% from “workers” (*). The affluent vote FDP (the other party of the right). E.g. http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-09/wahlverhalten-bundestagswahl-wahlbeteiligung-waehlerwanderung, https://www.nzz.ch/international/wie-einkommen-arbeitslosigkeit-und-migration-das-wahlverhalten-mitbestimmen-ld.1318290

(*) German labor statistics distinguish Arbeiter, Angestellte, Beamte and Selbständige. About a quarter of the labor force are classified as Arbeiter and those are mostly men. “Worker” is actually more a gender than a class identifier. Unsurprisingly, AFD voters are about two thirds male.

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