Dear Baby Boomers,
Back in the late 1960s, when you were still college students, then-Governor of California Ronald Reagan had a meeting with a group of you. One of your representatives told Governor Reagan that he’d grown up in a different world. “Today we have television, jet planes, space travel, nuclear energy, computers,” the man said. Reagan fired back, “You’re right. It’s true that we didn’t have those things when we were young. We invented them.”
Judging by how you’re treating the new generation, I think you missed his point.
Recessions are great clarifiers. They kill pretense. And if any pretense has been a casualty of this recession, it has been your pretension to adore youthful energy, to want to nurture self-esteem and to create a world without unfairness. Now that there is not enough money to fund both your Medicare and the tax reforms that would bring young people work, we’ve all seen what those pretentions meant.
I know your complaints — young voters are “entitled,” they’re “arrogant,” they make lousy employees, who can’t take no for an answer, who can’t stand to be told they do things wrong, who make unreasonable demands. “Those darn kids have been spoiled,” I hear so many boomers complain. “We grew up in a different world. We didn’t have Google and YouTube and Facebook. We couldn’t connect with other people at the click of a mouse. We couldn’t work from home. Those kids have gone soft!”
You’re right. You didn’t have Google, YouTube and Facebook growing up. Neither did the millenials. They invented them. The information boom of the past few years has been their creation. The social networking sites you use to organize Tea Parties are their creations. The massive advances in workplace efficiency brought about by video conferencing, the shrinkage of the globe thanks to massive online global shopping sites, the ability of freedom to infiltrate dictatorships via Internet activism, the crashing down of barriers to entrepreneurship thanks to the endless frontier of the World Wide Web — these were all things they figured out how to do.
I’m not suggesting the millennials are faultless angels, nor am I pretending that their creations are superior to yours. You gave us the smart phone and the modern personal computer, to name a few, and without those, the millenials would’ve lacked a medium in which to translate their genius. However, let’s be clear — millennials aren’t the ones pretending another generation is a pack of lazy, entitled sponges who contribute nothing to society.
Moreover, you can’t blame the millennials completely for their problems. They, after all, did not choose to grow up in a society eroded to the point of nothingness by nihilistic social permissiveness. They did not choose to be educated by a system that prizes self-esteem over achievement and taught them that fulfillment of their dreams was a right to be provided by others. They did not choose to enter an economy hobbled by a welfare state that grows fatter with every unfulfilled desire. They did not choose to enter a job market rigged against them by a recession built from the inability to accept limits on society’s wants.
You, on the other hand, chose to make all of those things a reality. It was you who burned bras in the streets, legitimized the single-parent family so thoroughly it spread like a virus and created a sexual ethic whose bastard grandchild is the present-day hookup culture. Are you surprised that young people are hedonistic?
It was you who went to education schools with the agenda to destroy grades, who complained to coaches that keeping score hurt your children’s self-esteem, who stopped marking their papers in red ink to keep from letting them know their writing stunk, and who taught them that no matter how defective they were, they would always be just as good as anyone else. Are you surprised that young people expect praise for nothing?
It was you who fought to eradicate the concept of personal responsibility from the welfare rolls via social unrest. It is you who threatened to move to Canada if Barry Goldwater was elected because he would take away your goodies, and it was you who pioneered the concept of welfare as an “entitlement,” rather than as an unfortunate temporary necessity. Yet you’re accusing young people of being entitled?
It is thanks to two presidents from your generation that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was never reformed, and that the greatest expansion of the welfare state since Lyndon Baines Johnson was pushed through to buy votes in Florida. It is thanks to members of your generation that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac exist. Yet young people are the sponges?
Yes, you gave us Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. You also gave us Cass Sunstein, Donald Berwick, both Clintons, Bill Ayers and most of modern academia, which even now conspires to shove the same socialist hooey many of you argued for as teenagers down every young person’s throat. Those of you who have since come to your senses and gone conservative blame millennials for the election of Obama. Yes, millennials went overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008. You went overwhelmingly for George McGovern in 1972, and unlike you, millenials only tried to blow up the Pentagon in video games.
Make no mistake — you’re culpable for much of what makes millenials insufferable. You have not only failed to grapple with this, but you’ve treated the pain of these young people with an insensitivity that is frankly shocking. You promised self-fulfillment and gainful employment to your children, but when they demand that you sacrifice in order to deliver on your promises, you call them entitled. You sneer that they should get jobs and stop whining for free health care while sitting on a mountain of Social Security payments and Medicare benefits that exceed all that you paid in, and that your children will never see because you already spent what they paid in and left them with the multitrillion-dollar bill.
I have purposely avoided the subject of my own age, because this is not about me. And frankly, Baby Boomers, that’s something both you and the majority of millenials could stand to learn — it’s not about you. But the millenials have not had the chance to govern this country, nor to set its norms. You have, and you have failed not only yourselves, but your offspring. The implosion of your false promises has left them perpetual traumatized children, stuck escaping to a world of 8-bit innocence in order to forget how cruel and false the world has really turned out to be. Most of them have turned to liberalism purely out of denial. While this delusion will pass, you can already see the seeds of what is to come in their cavalier attitude toward the idea of “death panels.”
When they turn to conservatism, as some already are, you should be very afraid. This will not be the conservatism of your fathers, nor of theirs. As the love affair of so many millenials with Ron Paul shows, it will be an angry, fanatical conservatism that takes sweet vindication from the bitter irony of Barry Goldwater’s warning that “the government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away.” They will not respect the many institutional barriers that protect even the most politically sacrosanct entitlements. They know that the big government you created has given you everything you want at their expense.
And unless you make peace with them, they will have no moral qualms whatsoever about taking all of it away.
Phillip Mencken is the pseudonym of a conservative author.