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One Nation, Without a Clue

| March 21, 2013

Dali's 'The Elephants' (1948).

Dali’s ‘The Elephants’ (1948).

By Donald Kaul

There was a time when we had a Greatest Generation. That would be my parents’ generation. If you’re a mere stripling of 40 or 50 or so, it probably was your grandparents’ generation.

You know the rap: They survived the Great Depression, won World War II, stood up to the Russians, blah, blah, blah.

I’ll grant you all of that. But if they were so great, how come they were such were lousy parents?

Donald Kaul

That may sound harsh. But as noble as they were, they fell down on the job of passing on their virtues to their children. That generation of Americans has now reached middle age and beyond. It includes my generation and my own kids’ generation.
Instead of being uncomplaining and self-sacrificing as our parents or grandparents were, we’re a cohort of greedy whiners, quick to blame others for our failings. And when the available evidence fails to support our convictions, we simply deny reality and make up a kinder version.

If our generations had been around in the 1930s, we’d still be in the Great Depression with prominent lawmakers telling each other we need a smaller government.

The Republicans have raised this denial technique to an art form, but I wouldn’t give the Democrats a pass.

Take, for example, global warming. (Yes Virginia, the climate is changing. Look it up, if you don’t believe me.)

A quick review of recent news reports revealed these headlines:

“Thin Snowpack in West Signals Summer of Fire and Drought.”

“Report Blames Climate Change for Extremes in Australia.”

“Arctic Sea Ice Hits Record Low.”

The worst part about this is that we’re doing it to ourselves. As Pogo, the charming possum drawn by cartoonist Walt Kelly, once said: “We have met the enemy and it is us.”

So-called conservatives (what is it exactly they are they trying to conserve?) deny this. We don’t have global warming, they say, and if we do it’s a natural phenomenon. Corrupt scientists seeking government grants made up the whole thing.

other-wordsThat’s it. That’s their whole argument. And people believe it because fantasy is always sweeter than reality and the fossil-fuel industries spend a lot of money promoting that particular fantasy. It’s our parents’ fault. Or their parents’ fault. They didn’t teach us right.

Democrats don’t talk that talk necessarily, but they walk the same fracking walk.
Another example of this irresponsible mindset is our attitude toward the federal budget. The Republicans have hammered away at the need to balance the budget without raising taxes (particularly on “job-creators”) for so long that I think they’re starting to believe it themselves.

It’s yet another fantasy for three reasons.


There’s no budget crisis. That’s a fiction promoted by those who want a small, weak government that big business can run roughshod over.
If there were a crisis, this would be a lousy way to confront it. What we need right now is an activist government that can create jobs, not only directly to perform needed services, but through support of education, research, and public works until the economy gets on its feet again. Then you can deal with the budget.
When we do confront the budget deficit, a balanced budget is not the way to do it. It sounds good, but it’s a counterproductive approach.
The arguments for a balanced budget put forth by conservatives today are eerily similar to those put forth by Herbert Hoover during the darkest days of the Great Depression. Faced with a 25 percent unemployment rate, his answer was the balanced budget, which he called “the most essential factor to economic recovery” and “the first necessity of the Nation.”

Isn’t that pretty much what Paul Ryan, the Republicans’ budget geek, said to a group of conservative Republicans at the yearly CPAC gathering? “A balanced budget will create a healthier economy,” he said. It was nonsense when Hoover said that, and it’s nonsense now.

The reason Ryan sounds like Hoover is because he’s essentially the same guy. Eighty years have taught the generations that followed the Greatest Generation — particularly conservatives — nothing.

Our parents, and perhaps your grandparents if you’re under 60, have a lot to answer for.

Donald Kaul worked some 30 years as a syndicated Washington columnist for the Des Moines Register before retiring at the dawn of the new century. He is a columnist for Other Words. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Reach him by email.

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10 Responses for “One Nation, Without a Clue”

  1. there are three sides to every story says:

    Speak for yourself old man…I learned and live as do most of my friends all the values and work ethic from
    our parents…We (our generation) never asked for anything free…we worked hard for everything we have and everything we lost. The people we elected over the years…the ones we thought were representing our values ruined this country for us.

  2. Sherry Epley says:

    Excellent article! As a “baby boomer” myself, I would also add that it is my generation who took it one step further and created the “entitled” generation “X”. Perhaps because I don’t have children myself, my perspective is not clouded by the best intentions of the love of one’s children. In any case, when I take a look at the differences in personal character traits of those that survived the “great depression” and World War Two, and the adults of today, I am so disappointed to say that it often seems that many of the traditional values that made our citizens pull together in a strong, healthy way have been greatly diminished.

    Where have the basics of true honesty, ethics, integrity, the work ethic, personal responsibility/accountability, respect of elders, love of thy neighbors, etc. etc. gone? When we gave the next generations “all the things we didn’t have” , did we “buy” them all the “toys” we wanted as children and young adults, and then neglect to instill in them the most valuable thing we had to give. . . GOOD CHARACTER?

  3. to live says:

    Why do we expect today’s generation to be like yours ? I have always taught my children to walk to the beat of a different drummer. I have always wanted them live their to lives as they see fit. Your generation was more of unity to overcome hardship. I want my children to be independent thinkers, and take care of their problems on their own. Yes. I gave them the skills and nourishment while they were growing up, but I want them to fly like eagles, not waddle like ducks. This is a whole different time then what I or my parents went through. This is a time of independence and growth for one self, not depending on others to take care of their problems for you them.

  4. christina b says:

    Why is this necessary? How can you talk about “cohort of greedy whiners, quick to blame others for our failings” with a straight face, when the subject itself is worded such that it “assigns blame” to a group of people (based on…what? Birth year?)

    I refuse to point fingers at my friends and family and blame them for anything–that’s insanity, whether it’s true or not. We need each other. We need to pull together, not splinter apart further. So…I don’t get articles like this, particularly when you are smart enough to articulate the real problem we all face: “There’s no budget crisis. That’s a fiction promoted by those who want a small, weak government that big business can run roughshod over.”

    Being distracted with pointless arguments about “whose fault it is” that we’re in this predicament helps big business and no one else.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Basically what this article is about is a baby boomer, Mr Kaul, criticizing a genxer, Mr Ryan, for wanting to reduce his entitlements and interfering with his spoiled selfish life which he is convinced he’s still entitled to. Never mind the fact that his generation did and still continues to do a lousy job of being good stewards of government and the country’s welfare! As a result, they have transferred all the financial burden of cost and recovery onto their kids, their kids’ kids, their kids’ kids’ kids…….providing these poor destitute doomed souls can find a job and afford to have kids in the first place. Nice going…. but don’t feel bad, it was your parents’ fault. Likewise, your kids will blame you…and the cycle of blame continues…

    “The bad are not bad from the womb, but have learnt base ways from the bad because they thought what they said was true.” Theognis

  6. there are three sides to every story says:

    Please stop blaming the baby boomers for everything that is bad and wrong today!
    I’m 64 and have worked HARD since I was 12…and look were it got me…Paid Taxes and saved my money all those years along with all my friends and family and look what it got us…Our wonderful government has spent us into oblivion…and still doesn’t get it!

  7. Karma says:

    Anyone remember the fictional character “Julia”? Obama created her during the last campaign. She was dependent on the government from cradle to grave. Is this the America Mr. Kaul wishes for. Or is it good old FDR that actually signed an Executive Order that permitted the confiscation of peoples gold in the name economic growth. Guess who got screwed with that order? Are we next? Bank Accounts,IRA’s, new taxes. Be careful what you wish for, you may just get it!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_Order_6102

  8. snapperhead says:

    I’ll agree with the clueless but not on party lines but more along consumerism and it’s detrimental effects. Think back to the town or city you grew up in, remember all the small family owned stores that provided for families and frequently were passed down from generation to generation? They’re all gone now and replaced by mega malls and strip plazas with corporate or regional franchises that barely provide for maybe an employee or 2 in upper management. We’ve brought our problems on ourselves by our purchases and consumerism more than any politician could ever hope. Capitalists have us in the ideal position now. They’ve created a demand thru fear, desire and insecurity for so much junk on store shelves it’s laughable. A pill for this, a product for that, you’re too fat,you look old, plain looking, not hip enough, you haven’t got the latest I phone? What a loser! And all that junk, we ( the capitalists) have new markets we can sell it to now so we’re not so dependent on you as consumers. And PS those people are willing to make the junk we sell you for a fraction of the cost. How little you willing to work for? It’s called race to the bottom. Google it.

  9. Karma says:

    One Nation, Without a Clue. What a perfect title. Look how the IRS spent $60,000 of YOUR money. A parody of Star Trek with IRS employees staring.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxU6n4pAnrU

  10. Legally says:

    When the liberals finally get everyone believing they are entitled to everything everyone else produces, it will be the end of the line for them, and this entire country. The MAKERS are almost extinct. What’s next? Getting Europe to pay for their bloated union wages and healthcare??

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