In "Thank You For Smoking," Christopher Buckley gave us a modest proposal on the benefits of smoking. In "Boomsday," Buckley skips the nicotine middle man and -- perhaps all too convincingly -- proposes that mass suicide may be the best solution to saving Social Security.
Buckley is one of the most engaging and skillful political satirists of our time. He knows how to walk the ever-increasingly fine line between realism and absurdity while juggling a menagerie of fantastically flawed characters through a moral minefield.
Cassandra Devine is a 29-year-old public relations wunderkind who manages to keep a tenuous grasp on her moral compass by cleansing herself from the dirty business of conducting media training sessions with corrupt corporate executives by maintaining an eponymous blog -- CASSANDRA: Concerned Americans for Social Security Amendment Now, Debt Reduction and Accountability.
The main issue keeping Cassandra up at night, pounding the keyboard in a Red Bull-fueled quest, is the coming "Boomsday," the day when the first of the 77 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 (the Baby Boomers) begins to retire. Once the Boomers start claiming their Social Security benefits, Cassandra's generation will be left footing the bill. Then the overeducated and underpaid Gen Xers, Gen Yers and Gen Whatevers will be seeing one-third to one-half of everything they earn over the course of their lifetime going to support the generation that dodged the draft, ruined casual sex and left us with an outsourced, tattered economy.
Which sucks -- truly sucks.
Cassandra's "voice of her generation" rants build a growing audience among the text-generation, viral video crowd. A 4:02 a.m. posting urging her readers to "take actions against gated communities known to harbor early-retiring Boomers" spurs riots on golf courses throughout Florida and lands Cassandra in court, and on the cover of Time magazine.
Cassandra's causes for Social Security reform -- if not anarchy on the greens -- is championed by Sen. Randolph K. Jepperson, who sees Cassandra as the key piece in his quest to capture the under-30 vote (if such a thing exists) and put him in the Oval Office. Together, the sexy spin doctor and the Massachusetts blue-blood propose a solution to the Social Security issue: Offer financial incentives to Boomers who kill themselves rather than retire.
After a lifetime of consumerism and materialism, Cassandra suggests, it's time for the Boomers to finally give back and leave some kind of legacy other than mounting debt and non-biodegradable plastic. By eliminating estate taxes and providing other benefits to those seniors who partake in her "transitioning plan" (a much more marketable brand name than mass suicide), Jepperson gradually wins support for the issue and forces its debate on the national stage. Really, at what point is an old person more valuable dead than alive -- think about it.
Buckley advances his plot like a Rube Goldberg illustration. Each step seems a bit unlikely, but somehow plausible given the state of world politics today. It's only when you've taken a few of those implausible but yet possible steps that put you in a place where retirees are lining up for lethal injection, Southern Baptist preachers are undermining presidential runs with flings with Russian prostitutes, and a twentysomething blogger with a cause is giving presidential aides bleeding ulcers.
"Boomsday" is wickedly funny -- particularly if you were born after 1972. It's a novel that has the potential to do just what the Homerically-named Cassandra set out to do with her self-described "meta issue" of transitioning and force public discussion of the state of the Social Security system. Given the rising cost of health care, the slow economy, and increasing lifespans, somehow youth uprising against gated communities and debate about transitioning don't seem as ridiculous as they sound. At 54, Buckley may well be the voice of the new generation -- even though he's just 11 years away from transitioning age.
Dan Murphy is a freelance Buffalo reviewer.
>Boomsday: A Novel
By Christopher Buckley Twelve Books, 336 pages, $24.99