Atlantic Editor: Bush, Gingrich Among Worst Political Baby-Boomers

Appearing on MSNBC to present his magazine's feature piece critical of the "Baby Boomer" generation, James Bennet of The Atlantic named George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, and Bill Clinton as the three worst "baby boomers" who did the most harm to the country's political culture and its economy.

"It'd be hard not to point to George W. Bush as having done a lot of damage," Bennet asserted.  Bush, he added, "created a lot of programs that costed us a huge amount of money, without a lot of regard for what the effects are going to be on the folks that are going to have to pay for those for many years."

Bennet also blamed President Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich for failed policies. However, Bennet was quick to reference the "surpluses as far as the eye could see" at the end of the Clinton administration, as a counterweight to Clinton's damage while in office. He bafflingly lauded President George H.W. Bush's tax hike as "politically brave" and which helped create the prosperity of the Clinton years.

The Atlantic's editor-in-chief made these arguments on the September 14 "Morning Joe" during the 8 a.m. hour.

Bennet asserted that his piece focuses on the fiscal irresponsibility of the Boomer generation. "The ultimate point it makes is... that these guys are about to pass on a legacy of debt to their own children and grandchildren that, I mean, that they basically bankrupted the country." Bennet labeled the Baby-Boomers as "self-absorbed" and "self-loathing."

Bennet also praised the Boomers for their liberal social achievements, namely helping end the Vietnam War, and introducing environmentalism, gay rights, and feminism to the national debate.

"They really changed the ethos, the political ethos, for the country in a good way, in addition to doing all the harm you were talking about," Bennet told show co-host Joe Scarborough.

"Something that needs to be said for the Boomers... is that the other generational labels really haven't stuck," Bennet argued. "You know, the Boomers, it should be said for them, at least have a kind of definition as a generation."

 

A partial transcript of the segment, which aired on Septmber 14 at 8:39 a.m. EDT, is as follows:

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: The cover story in The Atlantic this month delved into the "Baby Boomer's" generation's lack of accomplishments. Oh Lordy. The magazine paints an ugly picture, and it says "baby boomers" are "self-absorbed, self-indulgent, and self-loathing." Harsh words.

(...)

JAMES BENNET, Editor-in-Chief, The Atlantic: You know, one of the things that the story does that's really interesting is that it walks through what's the generation done wrong, and what it's done right. You know, in many ways, the legacy of debt that we're blaming the boomers on was really kind of created initially by the greatest generation. They created these giant entitlement programs that we're wrestling with now. That said, Joe, you're totally right. I mean, the "Boomers" are, I think it's fair to say that they were handed the most opportunity in American history, and I think you could make a pretty strong case that they've made the absolute least of it.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, and they've given us a political system as well that's divisive, that we've seen maybe since people were getting shot on the cliffs of New Jersey back in 1800. Aaron Burr – I mean how many Aaron Burr references do you get?

MARK HALPERIN: Weehawken, baby.

SCARBOROUGH: Weehawken. But anyway – no seriously, though. You have Clinton, one side of the Baby Boom generation – that starts a political war. Bush, the other side of the – it's just so ugly.

(...)

BENNET: It walks through kind of what the generation's done right, what it's done wrong. But the ultimate point it makes is Joe, where you were, which is that these guys are about to pass on a legacy of debt to their own children and grandchildren that, I mean, that they basically bankrupted the country. And it's kind of a call to action to do something about that.

JOHN HEIlMANN: And worse than that, they've done it in a totally obnoxious and narcissistic way. I'd like you – a minute ago you said that you didn't want to generalize too much, so I'd rather you be specific. Can you name three archetypally horrible Baby Boomers that have done the most to ruin our political culture and ruin our country?

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: I like this. Good, good, good. Name names. Name names.

BENNET: You know, that's a good question, John. I'm thinking about it. It'd be hard not to point to George W. Bush as having done a lot of damage. Having created a lot of programs that costed us a huge amount of money, without a lot of regard for what the effects are going to be on the folks that are going to have to pay for those for many years.

I'm trying to think of a good cultural figure. Would you nominate one? You're better at that than me.

SCARBOROUGH: George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are flip-sides of the same coin. James, I understand that you are immersed in the East Coast liberal establishment, but... step out to Middle America.

BENNET: You know, it's easy – I was just trying to think of somebody outside politics, but you're right. Look at Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, and the kind of politics that they've created for the country. Bill Clinton, you could make an argument, I mean, on the focus of this piece is very much on fiscal responsibility. And his administration actually exited with surplusses as far as the eye could see. Now part of that was a function of the Greatest Generation President George H. W. Bush, who, I think it looks increasingly good in the long view of history, and did some politically very brave things, including a tax hike that he paid dearly for that set the country on a path to prosperity, really, during the Clinton years.

SCARBOROUGH: So give us – we've kicked the Baby Boomers around. They deserve it. But give us what is perhaps thus far the greatest accomplishment of this generation.

BENNET: There's a bunch of stuff these guys have gotten done. Look, they didn't start the Vietnam War, but they got the country out of it. They made environmentalism, and feminism, and even gay rights – they made these mainstream ideas rather than fringe ideas. They really changed the ethos, the political ethos, for the country in a good way, in addition to doing all the harm you were talking about.

BENNET: Something that needs to be said for the Boomers, Willie, is that the other generational labels really haven't stuck. Because isn't kind of a coherent sense of any of the rest of us. You know, the Boomers, it should be said for them, at least have a kind of definition as a generation that –
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014