Hate Political Gridlock? Blame It on the Boomers

Our polarized politics are thanks to the baby boomers, who see no shades of grey.

By SHARE
EC_130724_markstein.jpg

The essence of Buddhism is for the enlightened to create harmony and avoid conflict. If Buddhists want to avoid conflict, they should avoid Washington, D.C.

If you want to know why Washington is so polarized, just look at the results of the 2012 elections. Barack Obama won with just 51 percent of the vote compared to 47 percent for Mitt Romney. The vote for U.S. House of Representatives split almost exactly down the middle, with a slight edge to Democrats.

Why was the contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney so close? The national exit poll of Americans who voted in 2012 tells the tale. Voters closely divided on the direction of the country (46 percent right/52 percent wrong), the role of government (43 percent more/51 percent less) and gay marriage (49 percent yes/46 percent no). With Americans so conflicted, it shouldn't be a surprise that politicians can't compromise.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

Why are Americans so polarized? Blame it on the boomers.

The baby boomers, Americans born between 1946 and 1964, currently dominate American politics. The boomers grew up in the world of black and white television and a black and white culture with no shades of grey. They lived in a world where there was a right way and a wrong way to do things. For boomers, it's their way or the highway. The boomers grew up during the the Vietnam War and the assassination of two Kennedys and one King. Conflict, not compromise, goes with the territory. 

Politics is much more divisive now than it was 30 years ago. In his new book, "Tip and the Gipper," Chris Matthews describes the political world of the greatest generation that survived the Depression and World War II. To survive, the members of the greatest generation had to work together. President Ronald Reagan and the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tip O'Neill, didn't agree on much, but they knew they had to co-operate for the good of the nation like they and millions of other Americans did in the 1930's and 1940's. They knew that Americans wanted them to make the federal government work well, not put it out of work.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

In their books "Millennial Makeover" and "Millennial Momentum," Morley Winograd and Mike Hais examine the political impact of the generation of young Americans who were born between 1982 and 2003.The millennials grew up in a world of color TV where there was little black or white. They grew up working as teams. The early waves of young people made their impact felt by supporting Barack Obama in large numbers in 2008 and 2012.

Boomers represent the past and millennials are the future, so there's hope for a better political system. As more and more millennials become eligible to vote, they will have an even more profound influence on American politics. They know how to work together to make things better. Things will only get better because they can't get much worse.

  • Read Susan Milligan: Kathleen Sebelius, Jonathan Jarvis and Pointless Attempts to Make Obama's Team Resign
  • Read Eric Schnurer: Baby Boomers Are Running Up the National Debt and Undermining Education
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly, now availableon iPad
  • Corrected on : Corrected 10/17/13: This post originally misspelled the name of Tip O’Neill.