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In one of the gorgeous pieces of generational self-congratulation in which it specializes, Rolling Stone published a cover a few years ago. It was a huge picture of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., entitled "Hero to a Generation". Inside was one of those polls, showing that Rolling Stone readers had overwhelmingly selected him as their icon. Yeah, right. Lots of good feeling all around. Dr. King was in his late 30s when he was murdered in 1968, so he was no boomer. He gave up his life to hard study, hard work, and charitable labor. Only in his sex life was he promiscuous. And yes, a few thousand young people did go south to give him a hand. But many civil-rights workers were King's age. In the year of his murder, which was also the first year the boomers got to vote, the winner was Richard Nixon. Faced with war and domestic crisis, the boomer generation for the most part didn't resist, didn't participate, didn't sacrifice. The key words of their activity are "evasion" and "avoidance".

A merciful history may spare us the judgment of having been the generation of Gary Hart — but that's only because of accident and caprice. Instead we have the boomer twinship of Big Bill and Plump Newt: a brace of self-regarding and superficial egomaniacs looking for esteem in all the wrong places. For this bunch to claim Dr. King as an icon is like Ronald Reagan claiming to have borne arms in the Second World War. In the longer view, the symbolic boomer political figure may not even be the wretched Clinton. It may be J. Danforth Quayle.

To be a spoiled person is not to be well-off or favored by fortune or protected from brute realities. It is to be well-off and favored by fortune and protected from brute realities and not to know it. The post-1945 generation has been, at least until recently, free of the fear of untreatable disease and mass unemployment. It more or less grew up knowing that sex and procreation could be easily separated — the first generation in human history for which this was true. Every great book in the human record wa