Sunday, January 14, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 14, 2001

Bush gives Silent Generation a voice

From the 'Greatest' to the 'Millennials'

By John Griffin

It’s sobering to see how the incoming Bush administration looks like the last chance for White House power by my neglected generation.

That’s the Silent Generation, the one sandwiched between last century’s two monoliths — the G.I. or so-called "Greatest Generation," which grew up mostly in the 1930s Depression and fought World War II, and then their self-absorbed children, the baby boomers, who in the 1960s feuded over Vietnam and other establishment legacies.

In contrast, the Silents often have been viewed as transitional, reactive, even unimaginative, a no-respect Rodney Dangerfield of a generation.

It’s produced many fine members of Congress but no president — yet. Failures there include Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Gary Hart, Ralph Nader and Jesse Jackson.

Now George W. Bush, like Bill Clinton, is 54 and so born early amid the boomers. But these are two very different guys with different generational outlooks.

Clinton, it seems, has reflected his changing generation, the scattershot idealism, great self-interest and an increasing focus on financial matters.

Bush looks like the spoiled rich kid who was largely oblivious to the social upheaval of the ’60s. He seems either a throwback or a new spin on the old Silent cycle. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd makes the point this way:

"Our first boomer president and vice president tried so aggressively to be modern. They were gurus, facilitators, Blackberrys. But the second boomer president is doing everything he can to get the power out of boomers’ hands and back into those of the gray generation between World War II and Vietnam.

"Despite the multi-gender, multicultural cast of some of his top appointments ... his inner circle has a very mahogany-corporate-suite, musty men’s-club feel to it, an I Like Ike’ feel."

For readers who weren’t around then, Ike refers to President Eisenhower of the 1950s, a time of increasing American affluence and neglect of social needs that fed into the chaotic 1960s.

So I have mixed feelings about "my" Silent Generation making a last hurrah, with a virtual member in the Oval Office and many actual Silents in the Cabinet and on the White House staff. Incoming Secretary of State Colin Powell is among them.

Vice President-elect Dick Cheney is especially interesting since, despite his heart problems, he would take over if something happened to Bush. A recent Washington Post profile said this:

"Born in 1941, Cheney is in many ways the perfect embodiment of the Silent Generation of which he is a part. Born too late for World War II, and for the most part too early for Vietnam, the Silent Generation did not protest, and placed a premium on fitting in and succeeding in large institutions. ... They value cordiality and consensus."

Nobody’s predicting that a Cheney Chic will take over Washington, but the style of the new White House will be interesting — not to mention the substance it promotes or disguises.

And how about Hawaii, where Silents (anyone roughly between 58 and 76) abound in positions of power, or sometimes statesman status?

They include Gov. Ben Cayetano (and former Gov. George Ariyoshi at the other end of the Silent age scale), Big Isle Mayor Harry Kim, UH President Ken Mortimer and First Hawaiian Bank Chairman Walter Dods.

Hawaii’s U.S. senators, Dan Akaka and Dan Inouye, are from the older G.I. Generation. But our two U.S. House members, Patsy Mink and Neil Abercrombie, are Silents. Have you noticed she is getting quieter and Neil more establishment-like with age?

Some historians say we shouldn’t put too much emphasis on generational change and recurring cycles in history. Much depends on individual personalities and on the tenor and traumas of the time, including wars, economic change, disasters and new technology.

Still, history can also repeat itself, albeit in different ways. Generations do react to and sometimes against each other. There are some intriguing patterns in American history, if less so in a younger and vibrant Hawaii.

That’s part of why it’s interesting to be around now in this nation and in these Islands where even us Silents may be heard.

John Griffin, former editor of The Advertiser’s editorial section, is a frequent contributor to these pages (e-mail:

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