This might seem unlikely, but President Reagan has made a lot of my friends happy. Borderline ecstatic would not be a total exaggeration. His latest Supreme Court nominee, federal appeals court Judge Douglas Ginsburg, is only 41 years old and there is a lot of talk around that 41 is too young.
"I'm 42 years old," said a friend and colleague, "and it's nice to be thought of as young again."
Age, of course, is a state of mind, but I have noticed recently that several of my acquaintances have achieved a more advanced state of mind. I know people who are in or around my demographic group who are getting gray hair. Some are even getting facial wrinkles and every one of us who is female and has had children seems to be having back problems. We pop calcium pills the way we used to pop stresstabs.
This, however, is the generation that first turned youth into a cult, so it figures that it is going to be tough to deprogram it and force it to face middle age. Ginsburg's youth is an unexpected and delightful reprieve. It's been a while since any of us were "too young" for anything. Some of us have taken to saying we are "too old" for certain things, like staying up past midnight on a weeknight, but I don't know anyone in this demographic cohort who can say the words "middle-aged" without gagging. Middle-aged isn't just a state of mind. It's a state of being fully grown up, assuming full responsibilities, being fully in charge. This is the buck-stops- here generation, and that's a little scary.
One of the nice things about having different generations living at the same time is that we can blame other age groups for the various social ills, instead of ourselves. You would never, for example, hear teen-agers blaming teen-agers for the alcohol and drug abuse, drunk driving, pregnancies and sheer mayhem that each generation of teen-agers inflicts on society. No, teen-agers blame their parents for the mess they have made and parents blame teen-agers for the mess they are making. Similarly, parents -- and here we are talking about the 30- to 50- year-old-age group -- are disinclined to blame their own generation for creating a geopolitical mess instead of an advanced civilization. They blame their own parents and grandparents for setting the stages for wars and pestilence through a history of bad treaties and general lack of foresight. Conflicts in the Middle East and Central America, for example, have been going on for generations. Why take all the blame yourself?
What happened on Wall Street is a little more difficult to pin directly on flawed policies of the grandparent generations, so the parent generation has singled out one grandparent: the president. The other generation that is getting blamed are the post-adolescents who were earning $250,000 a year as brokers. Talk about being "too young" for something. I saw a 28-year-old being interviewed on television one night last week. He said it was going to be tough to adjust to not earning a quarter of a million dollars a year. He is going to get a terrible shock when he goes out into the real world and discovers that no one who works for a living is going to have any sympathy for the erstwhile Wall Street whiz kids who gave new meaning to the idea of conspicuous consumption. My generation's motto used to be don't trust anyone over 30. Now, it's don't trust anyone under 30.
People over 30 used to be the ones running things and they used to be the ones whom we could rebel against for the mess they made in everything from foreign policy (Vietnam, of course), to lousy cars. Having an older generation around to blame things on is handy beyond measure. And getting handier: more and more people are living well into their eighties and nineties, and more and more are retiring and starting new careers so we can count on having multiple generations of grandparents and great-grandparents around to blame things on for a long time.
Meanwhile, however, the mantle of responsibility is being passed down as well as up.
Ginsburg is the youngest person to be nominated to the Supreme Court in nearly 50 years. He is also the first member of my generation to be nominated to the court and my immediate reaction was the same as everybody else's I know, which was that 41 is too young. What does he know? He hasn't even been out of college for 20 years.
Sen. Albert Gore (D-Tenn.) is running for president and he is only 39 years old. Sen. Joseph Biden Jr. (D-Del.) was running for president and he is only 44 years old. Perhaps the real question we should be asking ourselves is not whether Ginsburg is too young, but whether this means our time has come.