Sunday, July 8, 2012

Young vs. old

This probably isn't news to most of you, but the biggest chasm in outlook in the U.S. today isn't between the 1% and the 99%, but between the young and the old, as David Leonhardt's Op-Ed piece in the New York Times of a couple of weeks ago argues.
Beyond political parties, the two have different views on many of the biggest questions before the country. The young not only favor gay marriage and school funding more strongly; they are also notably less religious, more positive toward immigrants, less hostile to Social Security cuts and military cuts and more optimistic about the country’s future. They are both more open to change and more confident that life in the United States will remain good.
The hostility toward public education funding by a majority of the electorate across the country could be seen (and I had seen it) as a campaign driven by a resurgent libertarianism ("let me educate my kids like I want them educated") and a religious conservatism that embraced libertarianism on this front because it was convenient ("let me educate my kids so they have an appropriate respect for my religion, not like the godless secularists you liberal fantasists are creating in the public schools"). But it could also, and more cynically, be seen as a kind of protectionism for the older crowd ("if it's a choice between my elder care facilities and the schools, keep your mitts off my elder care facilities").

As the late-born offspring of Greatest Generation parents who are now gone, I was and am willing to support that generation: they gave a hell of a lot for this country and helped to make it the powerhouse it is today. However, as a cynical member of the generation immediately following the baby boomers, I have a lot less sympathy for the boomers. They helped to overspend and whine us into the fix we're in today. They could and should have taken up their responsibility for stewardship of the nation back in the 1970s and 1980s, when they became politically active, but instead, they lived up to their reputation for self-centeredness and embraced the promise that they could still have it all. Instead of recognizing that Jimmy Carter was trying to take the country in a new, better direction and that it would be a long, hard slog to get the country off of fossil fuels and a fiscally ruinous Cold War arms race (an arms race that did ruin the U.S.S.R. and led to its downfall), the boomers joined with my parents' generation to elect Reagan, whose "morning in America" proved a false dawn indeed. (The Greatest Generation had its blind spots, like the rest of us.) Reagan's administration led, philosophically, to the disastrous GOP of today, whose agenda's hallmarks are rampant anti-intellectualism, blind fealty to religious authoritarianism, unthinking acceptance of absolutely nonsensical fiscal policy, and a contempt for anyone who dares to question even the tiniest part of the agenda.

The Greatest Generation is, literally I'm afraid, dying off. I'm pretty sure that by the time any substantive change occurs in the benefits for the elderly, they'll be all but gone. To the extent, therefore, that the elderly are the ones getting in the way of what needs to be done to keep this country — to keep this planet — running in the long term, I feel no compunction saying, "the hell with them". My apologies to those of the boomer generation who understand this country's problems and have been trying to fix them: you're simply outnumbered and outvoted. The young and the educated have to take charge of this country's future, because the older generation has shown no indication that it has the ability or will to do so.

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