When I was at UNC in the mid-1980s, someone who only tolerated my left-leaning politics repeated the purported words of Winston Churchill: "Anyone who's not a liberal at 20 has no heart and anyone who's not a conservative at 40, has no head." I was barely 20 at the time and those words stuck in my craw. That couldn't happen to me, could it? In the mid-1980s, conservatives were easy to spot--defined by how they felt about Oliver North, Jerry Falwell, the president's non-response to the AIDS epidemic and acid rain (OK, some things haven't changed). Now that I'm bearing down on 40, I find the categories of liberal and conservative less clear. I find myself wishing for a Roosevelt Republican who can remind all of us (the few dozen Kucinich voters and the thousands of NASCAR dads alike) what makes this country great and how fragile that thing is in the face of religious zealotry, corporate cronyism and greed that scoffs at any concern for the environment.
It turns out Sir Winston probably never uttered those words, but they remain associated with him and they continue to give me pause. I thought of them again after a recent encounter with D.R. Bryan and Rosemary Waldorf at Bryan Properties, developers of large Triangle projects. Last month, Bryan Properties took the stunning step of donating hundreds of acres of environmentally sensitive land in the Treyburn area to the Triangle Land Conservancy (the largest single donation in the conservancy's history).
Many people my age and younger have a complicated relationship with the generation that precedes us (and not just because they're our parents). The baby boomers launched both the environmental movement and the SUV craze, leaving all of us with a choice between small cars that won't stand a chance in a crash or the further fouling of our own nest. The baby boomers' seeming willingness to undermine what they themselves accomplished in the way of cleaner air and water just makes me scratch my head. George W. Bush is just one version of the stereotypical self-righteous baby boomer: He knows all the answers and he's willing to overturn decades of American tradition--immediately and without respect for the messiness of science and democracy, in his case--in pursuit of an ideal that will leave half of the country angry and gasping for their lost culture (and perhaps their lost ozone layer).
I hope the radicals of my next decade will look more like D.R. Bryan and his partners: developers who find land they would rather not develop and, in the public interest, with public support, go out of their way to make it so. They are baby boomers who conserve (conservationists or conservatives?) and take the radical step of choosing not to maximize profits and their own power to consume. The categories get more confusing the older I get. Where is Sir Winston when you need him?