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?
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.
That’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.