An Apology To America’s Youth

Last week as the sequestration follies ratcheted up Republican angst against Obama because the 8AM shuttle between DC and New York didn’t depart until 11:30, it occurred to me that I and my generation owe the younger generation(s) an apology. I mean, What A Mess!!  You might think it strange that I would begin this blog with an apology, but to me it’s critical in our testy, tumultuous times to take responsibility for our actions; provided, of course, that we are able to sift through the incredible fog of obfuscation, prevarication, evasion and just plain lying that passes for public policy discourse today.  This is no simple task.  But I digress.  More about this later. 

On behalf of the Baby Boomer Generation I would like to offer an apology to both Generation X-er’s and the Millennial Generation for not paying close enough attention to what was happening to America over the past 30 years.  (NOTE: According to my Generation X friends they are in much better shape than the Millennials but I will include them anyway since they too have taken on the burden of 30 years of the economic and social lottery that passes for policy today.) In fact, I’m not even sure that we really knew what was going on until very recently.  For me it was Naomi Klein’s  “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” that finally opened my eyes. This was just last year. 

After the 60’s and 70’s my generation became obsessed with jobs and families, did quite well frankly, and more or less ignored the younger generations’ travails.  “After all,” we rationalized, “we made it on our own and they (you) can too.”  What we didn’t take into account (not that many – or any – of us understood the implications) was the new free market economic forces and culture wars that swept the country following the election of Ronald Reagan.  Part of our self-induced ignorance was a result of our cavalier disdain for Reagan, I suppose, whom we saw as nothing more than an opportunistic grade B actor who hated Blacks, hippies and the poor.   It caused us to ignore him and his administration thinking that it would all soon pass and then we could get back to normal. (The invasion of Grenada, that Caribbean Island, like Cuba, who posed such a deadly threat to US autonomy, did attract our attention but not for the “right’ reasons.)

We thought – and were led to believe - that NAFTA was a good thing.  So too were cutting taxes, reducing government waste and outsourcing.  Off-shoring seemed, at the time, the only way to save US manufacturing industries. (Yeah, that turned out real well, didn’t it?) Free market economics?  Of course that was good. Tough love?  Just say “No?” What harm could they do?  We were wrong of course.  Great harm has been done.  Personally I owe an even bigger apology than most
of my generation-mates since I have a couple of Wharton School of Economics graduate courses under my belt and I should have known.  (Was I too consumed with how I would pay off my $2,100 student loan?) Who knew that Milton Friedman was actually Lucifer posing as a knowledgeable economics guru?  And Fox?  Well, in good liberal tradition we believed that everyone had a right to air their views no matter how repugnant they might be to us. I mean how could we have known that Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch would rival the CIA (think Iran Contra and Oliver North) in their clandestine, illegal activities and Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh would be labeled “pundits?” (Pundit: A learned man.)

Maybe if we hadn’t been so obsessed with making money, finding the perfect private school for our sons and daughters or the perfect kennel for Sandy while we jetted off to St. Thomas for two weeks, maybe if we hadn’t been quite so filled with the idea that we had already changed the world and we were done with it, we might have noticed what was going on.  But we didn’t.  From “our” society where the homeless were more than just bodies one stepped around exiting a downtown movie theater, where AK-47 “style” weapons were seen on Viet Nam battlefields and not on public school playgrounds, where strong unions were simply part of the good life for factory workers, where Americans of all colors, all creeds, all ethnicities, all religions, all sexual persuasions were a part of our glorious multi-cultural fabric and entitled to every opportunity and benefit our society offered, from there to the mean, heartless, cruel and inhumane vulture culture we’ve evolved into today in such a short time is no mean feat.  In fact it’s quite breathtaking. 

And for this, for our part in not standing up for what we believe in, for not seeing that the term “conservative” had taken on a new and dangerous meaning, for being way too preoccupied with our own good lives to pay attention to yours, on behalf of all us Baby Boomers, I offer you our sincere apology.   My hope is that with your help and my generation’s efforts (we are still the country’s largest demographic cohort) we might, together, be able to restore America to its former role as the world’s shining city on the hill.  Or if not that at least a place where middle class families don’t go bankrupt from medical bills.  


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