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July/August 2007 -- Christopher Buckley, Boomsday. (New York: Twelve, 2007), 304 pp., $24.99.
When I’m with friends, a favorite party drinking game is watching “Behind the Music” on VH1. The show usually profiles some graying rock musician in a faded denim vest whose receding hair is nonetheless pulled back into the obligatory ponytail. We all place bets on how long into the episode it will take for him to say, “I’m a child of the 1960s.”
Child? Hey, I was born in the 1960s, and I’ve already got a bad back and calcified knee joints, and I squint when reading books with small type. Jesus, I can only imagine one of my Korean War–veteran uncles saying, “I’m a child of the ’50s.” He’d be laughed right out of the American Legion hall.
For satirist Christopher Buckley, the prospect of over seventy million of these “children” retiring, demanding federal funding for their Viagra and Depends, and bankrupting the Social Security “trust fund” by 2017, is definitely a laughing matter.
Comely blogger Cassandra Devine, the heroine of his latest political comedy, Boomsday, creates a furor when, at her behest, her fellow “Generation Whatever” members run roughshod over gated retirement communities and golf courses—all because the government has hiked their taxes yet again to pay for the excesses of the “Ungreatest Generation.” Calling for an “economic Bastille Day,” Cassandra incites her peers: “If the government can withhold our money, then we can withhold our money.”
For this PR spin-doctor-by-day, life is pretty comfortable. So, why does she spend her nights downing Red Bulls to stay awake at her laptop, tapping out angry missives to the Unwashed? You don’t need to be Freud to find the source of her rage in her baby boomer father: jet-setting narcissist Frank Cohane. Having few moments to spare for his smart-as-a-whip daughter, Frank nonetheless lives vicariously through her over-achieving and pushes her to get into the Ivy League. The day that the longed-for acceptance letter arrives, he’s already decked out his BMW with Yale decals. But when he empties her 529 college fund to start up a dot-com business, and trades his family for a new and improved trophy wife, Cass is forced to join the Army to pay for college.
After her discharge, and nursing an injury sustained from a tour in Bosnia (under eyebrow-raising circumstances), Cass locks herself up in her bedroom and plots her vengeful future while reading The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged .(Fans will appreciate the fact that Cass spends a lot of time correcting people who call her inspiration “Ann Rand.”)
Boomsday is Atlas Shrugged for the slacker generation.
Her tax revolt lands her on the front cover of Time and on the Sunday talk shows. Cass explains that politicians have shirked their responsibility to reform Social Security and the tax code, even as budget deficits and the national debt skyrocket and force the burden onto future generations. Taking a page from Jonathan Swift, she makes a “modest proposal” to put America’s fiscal house in order: boomers who, for the good of the country, commit suicide at age seventy-five (“voluntary transitioning” is her selling euphemism), will receive handsome tax incentives.
Though Cass insists that her ghoulish euthanasia scheme is just a reductio ad absurdum to draw national attention to the dire need for Social Security reform, it opens up Pandora’s box. A sordid cast of Beltway characters crawls out of the woodwork either to defend or denounce her. A liberal Massachusetts senator expropriates her cause as his own to run for the White House. A rotund, homely, pro-life televangelist rails against Cass’s “final solution” for the boomers in order to gain power for his pressure group—the Society for the Protection of Every Ribonucleic Molecule (SPERM). Another pressure group is a breakaway sect from AARP called ABBA—the Association of Baby Boomer Advocates, whose motto is “Ask not, what your country can do for you. Ask, What has your country done for you lately?” When Congress considers a “voluntary transitioning” bill, the group takes both sides of the issue and tries to get as many tax breaks as possible. Meanwhile, the Vatican leans on their monsignor in D.C. to threaten with excommunication any Catholic politician who supports the bill.
Only Christopher Buckley, whom novelist Tom Wolfe called “one of the funniest writers in the English language,” could have taken the ostensibly dry theme of Social Security reform and concocted such a wickedly side-splitting farce without dumbing down the topic. He’s masterfully mixed Steve Forbes’s flat-tax proposals and Ross Perot’s pie charts with the stale pot smoke emanating from the remnants of Woodstock Nation and the plot from Soylent Green to take readers on a breezy joyride to the cemetery.
Though Cassandra Devine tends to come off as a retread of the über-lobbyist Nick Naylor in Thank You for Smoking, Buckley’s sharp wit, political skepticism, and brisk plotting make Boomsday one of his best page-turners. It’s easily in the same company as his UFO-conspiracy satire Little Green Men and his self-help spoof God Is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7 1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth.
Boomsday is Atlas Shrugged for the slacker generation. And for any boomers who dare to read his hilarious take-down of their generation, a large-print edition is also available from the publisher, for just a couple more bucks.