When satire and reality collide head-on
By Steven Martinovich
When George W. Bush included the idea of Social Security reform in his platform Generation X, had they not been typically ambivalent, should have cheered. As we all now know, in a few short years the first of 77 million Baby Boomers will begin retiring and placing extraordinary pressure on the Social Security system. Though everyone is aware that the program will be in shortfall at some point in the relatively near future, no one has suggested any proposal to fix the gap other than the predictable -- and inevitable -- massive payroll tax hikes.
One blogger has proposed an alternate approach: Why not pay retiring Boomers to kill themselves, preferably at the age of 65? If only 20 per cent of Boomers took tax incentives to off themselves the system would return to solvency and Generation X would be spared the ruinous tax hikes needed to finance the golden years of the Me Generation. Sounds ludicrous? Ludicrous and attention-grabbing as presented in Christopher Buckley's latest satirical novel Boomsday.
Cassandra Devine is an attractive, intelligent, 29-year old PR worker by day and popular blogger by night. Her bête noire is the staggering financial obligation for the generations that will follow the retirement of the Baby Boomers. She captures public, and police, attention after her blog posts spark riots by Generation Xers at golf courses in retirement communities. After some initial attention, Cassandra's cause begins to slip from public consciousness. It is then that she dreams up her audacious plan: incentivized suicide for Baby Boomers.
Not surprisingly the proposal generates support from Generation X and outrage from pretty much everyone else. One politician, however, decides the issue may be his ticket to the White House. Blue-blood Sen. Randolph Jepperson IV, who coincidentally enough has a history with Cassandra, joins her team – which includes her Boomer boss – and introduces legislation to turn the late-night Red Bull-fuelled blog post into reality.
The world of sausage-making in Washington has been so thoroughly lampooned that it's difficult these days to pen an account that is simultaneously satirical yet possible. Buckley manages to tread that fine line, however, as Cassandra watches in dismay when the legislation is gutted by pork and demands by special interests. Eventually, even organizations that represent Boomers come onside, but only after extracting costly concessions from Jepperson and rendering the legislation merely an exercise in waste.
Swirling in and around the main story are subplots involving Cassandra and her estranged father, a man who raided her college fund to prop up a failing business and who is now a billionaire software developer with a yacht named "Expensive". Her primary opponent, outside of the President of the United States himself, is an allegedly matricidal pro-life spokesman who publicly rails away at Cassandra, Jepperson and their proposed legislation.
Boomsday is satire, sometimes over the top, but it contains enough elements of plausibility to raise serious questions. Buckley, through Cassandra, is right to ask whether the next two or three generations should be paying for the retirements of Boomers. A subplot involving Cassandra's father and a software project he is working on that would accurately predict the time of your death sounds fascinating until you realize which industries would make use of it. Its portrayal of a near future weakened America which is all but bankrupt – in Boomsday foreign nations are no longer interested in buying U.S. debt – sounds preposterous until you realize that day may not be far away after all.
Though we aren't likely to see a inter-generational war any time soon, like the one Boomers declared on their parents, perhaps turnabout is fair play. As with what happened in reality, however, these questions will likely fade once the reader has finished Boomsday and gone on to worrying about something else; perhaps global warming, a hostile Russia or whether Britney Spears re-enters rehab. Outrage, after all, is difficult to maintain. Despite that, Buckley's Boomsday is compelling novel which warns as it entertains.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
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