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Anniversary Irony: How the Woodstock Generation is Sabotaging Health Care Reform

The generation that sought to spread peace and love throughout society seems completely disinterested in spreading mammographies and diabetes screenings.
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The anniversary forensics into the lasting implications of Woodstock were completed this weekend, with one critical oversight.

There was no commentary about the utter absence of baby boomer support for health care reform. The generation that sought to spread peace and love throughout society seems completely disinterested in spreading mammographies and diabetes screenings.

Where the hell are they? The boomers, after all, were the demographic cohort that turned protest against inequity into a generational branding statement. There are roughly 70 million of them, so imagine what would happen if they adopted the fight for the extension of health care as another civil right -- as part of the ongoing struggle for social justice, no different than civil rights and women's rights? The entire national dialogue would be different.

If you were 25 at Woodstock, you're 65 today -- one year past Paul McCartney's archetypal Age of the Elderly. You should be on the vanguard of change. Boomer endorsement of health care reform would be a powerful validator. But times pass and hypocrisy hardens. Consider the visual picture of the debate: young families and middle-aged people telling heart-wrenching stories of lost insurance, or no insurance, and the ghetto of pre-existing conditions versus older people ranting about government bureaucrats making decisions for them.

How many of those objecting seniors looked back nostalgically on Woodstock this weekend? Now, they are reacting just like their frightened, defenders-of-the-status-quo parents back in the sainted 60s.

So the synchronicity of the Woodstock anniversary and the raging health care debate shouldn't be overlooked. Much has been written about the narcissism and self-involvement of the boomers, and the way in which the undisciplined indulgences of the sixties -- sex, drugs, rock and roll -- became sublimated into a parallel consumer world of undisciplined, indulgent consumption.

If you're going to reward yourself with everything NOW, and scorn the future (just take a look at the dismal stats about boomer savings) -- then you're going to have an equally selfish view of health care. Which means a reluctance to share it; a very anti-Woodstockian value

Indeed, the boomers consume health care in the same guzzling fashion that they bought homes and cars and electronics and designer everything. And they're worried that their God-given right to consume often and endlessly is being threatened by the Obama plan.

Can we blame them for this expectation of everything? From the time they were born, and their Spock-trained parents catered to their every whim, boomers were spoiled and privileged. Society existed to dandle them and indulge their fantasies.

They also grew up as children (and adults) during the largest expansion of employer-based health care in history. Corporations may have been boring (and sometimes evil), but they were generous. Boomers' white-collar and blue-collar parents had great benefits. They never had to deal with scarcity, with limits, with tough resource decisions. They always had plenty of toys, plenty of jobs, plenty of choices. So when opponents of reform use trigger words like "rationing", boomers get all twitchy and shrill.

Then there's the "Unplug Granny" distortion. The reason it's so contagious is that it strikes at the essence of boomer anxiety, the inevitable march to mortality. They want to go on forever. They see themselves as adolescents, they dress like adolescents,they listen to oldies music that suspends them in adolescent amber.

The free-love, communal mud-spirit of Woodstock has wizened and twisted into an forever young ideology that is making it difficult to have any intelligent conversation about end-of-life decisions. If it's going to cost a million dollars to keep me alive for another month, that's my boomer right.

Of course, there are yowls of protest about health care reform from the generation that precedes the boomers. But I haven't seen any meaningful segment of boomers talk about the need for reform, even if it means some degree of sacrifice. Talk to physicians in any area with a high concentration of those on Medicare and you'll hear the same refrain: every little ache and pain is an occasion (even a social occasion) for a trip to doctor, since Medicare pays anyway. That's the boomer ontology.

Gen X and Gen Y, as we know, have very little patience with the boomers. They see them as a self-involved generation that's leaving them a sick planet and a distorted set of values. Health care reform is the last chance the boomers have to live up to the promise of Woodstock, but it seems like they're still stuck in the mud.

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