As Christopher Buckley's Boomsday opens, the retirement date of the first American baby boomer looms. The government, in anticipation, has hiked up payroll taxes on the under-30 set to feed Social Security's piggy bank. And America's maxed-out working youth are acting out by making mulch of golfing greens and gated communities throughout Florida--land of the early-bird special.
Enter into the book's Swiftian premise: What if the U.S. government gave tax breaks to baby boomers for committing hara-kiri by age 70? Mass geriatric suicide would, logically, reduce required Social Security payments and save that New Deal-era program from doom.
The mastermind behind this plan is Cassandra Devine, a not quite 30-year-old, Washington-based public-relations maven. The Red Bull-addicted, bombshell-bodied blogger got into Yale out of high school, but her entrepreneurial-spirited dad, Frank Cohane, had tied her college fund up in some high-tech scheme and refused to sell his shares in the company jet. A Stafford Loan not being an option, for whatever reason, Cass enlisted in the Army.
She soon finds herself in Turdje, Bosnia, chaperoning diplomats. The only notable is then-Rep. Randolph K. Jepperson, a JFK type who peppers his speech with French. Insistent on a hot meal on his first evening in-country, Randy takes the wheel of Cass' Hummer and deftly drives the two into a minefield. Next thing you know, he's missing half a leg and she's no longer a soldier. Plus, word gets around that they had parked in that field to--you know.
The tenuous connections between gossip and truth, argument and fact--these are tightropes Buckley cartwheels across. In 1994's Thank You for Smoking, rhetoric is king: It's not whether smoking causes cancer, but whether you can spin cotton candy around a cigarette. Here, it's all about PR: It's not whether you had sex in that minefield, but about how a focus group will feel about it, either way.
In the Boomsday scenario, the mere imagining of a negative headline is enough to change a president's plan of attack. There's a right-to-lifer with blood on his hands (the Rev. Gideon Payne), a nouveau billionaire who uses money to change minds (Mr. Frank Cohane), a politician ready to hop, flex, and bend (now-Sen. Randy Jepperson). In this landscape, agents with the savoir-faire to term suicide "voluntary transitioning" can take a radical tax-reform scheme and morph it into a modest proposal worthy of C-Span-covered debate.
Buckley's prose is sillier than it is ironic: Punny organizational acronyms (ABBA, SPERM), a smattering of yuk-yuk jokes, and sitcom incidents not too far from Washington reality make Boomsday less than lethal political satire. If Buckley has any political intentions here, they're ambiguous, but as a satirist writing at the tail end of a blackly comedic presidency, he might have hummed his way through a more dangerous minefield.