Introduction: Reassessing the 1950s

Among members of the Baby Boom generation, any reference to the 1950s provokes wild mood swings, including reactions and responses than can break stereotypes. The self-avowed democratic socialist Harold Meyerson (born in 1950) regularly uses his Washington Post column to gush effusive praise on the United States at mid-twentieth century, pointing to a national industrial prowess that created family-wage jobs for men and a “broadly shared prosperity that made us the envy of the world.” He claims the robust American economy of the time, dominated by manufacturing, puts to shame today’s “Wall Street-Walmart” global economy, dominated by lucrative high-finance, on one end, and by low-paying service jobs, on the other, a new order that has depressed both wages and labor-force-participation rates among American men. On the other hand, Michael Barone (born in 1944, technically not a boomer) seems anxious to correct his younger brother’s memories of their childhoods. In the Wall Street Journal last summer, the American Enterprise Institute fellow denigrated the Fifties as a time when Americans fell into the habit of “celebrating the average, the normal, the regular,” chastising “liberals who long to return to the Midcentury Moment” for forgetting “that it was a time of enormous cultural uniformity that stigmatized being unmarried or unchurched or gay.” In this case, The Family in America does not hesitate in siding with the liberal Meyerson over the conservative Barone, in part because we welcome any challenge to the meta-narrative crafted by American elites, a story line that depicts the 1950s as a cultural backwater in need of the enlightenment that liberal progressives finally brought to the country in the 1960s. As Bryce J. Christensen’s lead essay suggests, this journal upholds the postwar years as a golden era in large part because state law and federal policy—informed by New Deal-era social and tax polices—upheld life-long marriage
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