Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Great, Not Perfect

No disparagement of the accomplishments of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” will ever be found here. They grew up amid the deprivations of mankind’s greatest economic cataclysm, too young to understand why. That sense of deferred satisfaction served them well during the war, and a profound desire never to do without again probably fueled the duration of the subsequent economic rebound.

They decided their children should not, would not, suffer these hardships. Therein lies the rub, as Shakespeare would say. The Greatest Generation’s greatest strength, their willingness to sacrifice, spawned the subsequent Baby Boomer generation’s greatest weakness, their demand for instant gratification without consequence.

Politics has given us two men to personify this thesis: George Herbert Walker Bush, forty-first president of the United States; and his son, George Walker Bush, President Forty-Three.

George H.W. Bush was a child of privilege in an era when the credo “to whom much is given, much is expected,” held sway, especially in the Puritan-influenced New England of his childhood. Bush was one of the first carrier-based fighter pilots of World War II, a war when the families of privilege considered it a matter of honor for their children to serve. He continued his national service in a number of roles, including Congress, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Vice President, and President.

Regardless of one’s opinion of his politics and policies, all can agree George H.W. Bush served his country well and faithfully. The only breath of scandal to touch him was Iran-Contra, when he claimed to be “out of the loop;” no scandal for personal gain or advantage was ever associated with his name. He lost his bid for re-election as president when he did what he thought was right for the country, reneging on his “read my lips” pledge to raise taxes. This probably cost him the presidency, and may well have led to the period of sustained economic growth shepherded by Bill Clinton.

George Walker Bush grew up in post-war boom times, in an era when privilege meant shielding your children from the burdens of your youth. The younger Bush will not (cannot?) account for his first forty years, except for selected excepts beyond his ability to shield. He went to Yale as a legacy, and was given choice duty in the National Guard while his less-fortunate peers were humping mortar plates and body bags through the rice paddies of Vietnam. As some point, even that may have become too onerous for him; the service records of the second half of his hitch are essentially unverifiable.

He firmly believes that finding God at age forty granted him a clean slate. He failed at everything he tried before politics, using his family connections to finally be elected governor of Texas as a “compassionate conservative.” The record shows little record of his compassion; Texas executions rose as quickly as its educational standards declined. He continues to show no tendency to conserve anything except what is his, or that of his friends.

He wants what he wants when he wants it, leaving the bills for future generations to pay. His “conservatism” does not extend to the environment, where today’s children will have to contend with the damage of his policies, enacted with an eye to keeping his backers happy today; later is someone else’s problem. He regularly attacks the liberties his father spent his life defending, because he gets to do what he wants. Others are either for him, or against him; there is no “loyal opposition” in his eyes. Disagreement is disloyalty.

This is not meant as an attack on Bush the Younger. The Bushes were only used here as examples of the sad state we currently inhabit, where primacy is assumed, and no sacrifice is too small to accept if it delays what we want. The Baby Boomer Generation stands on the shoulders of those who came before them and dishonors their sacrifices. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died to defend the liberty they assume as their birthright. The lack of outrage over the current violations of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Fourteenth, and who knows how many other amendments, all in the name of “protecting the homeland,” show the heirs of the Greatest Generation believe only others should sacrifice.

The greatest accomplishment of the Greatest Generation was to reshape the world they inherited and hand their children a far better place. Their greatest failure was in not passing down the values that made those accomplishments possible. It would be a sad legacy it this was the longer-lasting bequest.


lsensabaugh said...

To further illustrate your points -- see Jimmy Carter's newest book.

This isn't the real America
By Jimmy Carter, JIMMY CARTER was the 39th president of the United States. His newest book is "Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis," published this month by Simon & Schuster.
See excerpt below:

IN RECENT YEARS, I have become increasingly concerned by a host of radical government policies that now threaten many basic principles espoused by all previous administrations, Democratic and Republican.

These include the rudimentary American commitment to peace, economic and social justice, civil liberties, our environment and human rights.

Also endangered are our historic commitments to providing citizens with truthful information, treating dissenting voices and beliefs with respect, state and local autonomy and fiscal responsibility.

At the same time, our political leaders have declared independence from the restraints of international organizations and have disavowed long-standing global agreements — including agreements on nuclear arms, control of biological weapons and the international system of justice.

Instead of our tradition of espousing peace as a national priority unless our security is directly threatened, we have proclaimed a policy of "preemptive war," an unabridged right to attack other nations unilaterally to change an unsavory regime or for other purposes. When there are serious differences with other nations, we brand them as international pariahs and refuse to permit direct discussions to resolve disputes.

Regardless of the costs, there are determined efforts by top U.S. leaders to exert American imperial dominance throughout the world.

These revolutionary policies have been orchestrated by those who believe that our nation's tremendous power and influence should not be internationally constrained. Even with our troops involved in combat and America facing the threat of additional terrorist attacks, our declaration of "You are either with us or against us!" has replaced the forming of alliances based on a clear comprehension of mutual interests, including the threat of terrorism.

Another disturbing realization is that, unlike during other times of national crisis, the burden of conflict is now concentrated exclusively on the few heroic men and women sent back repeatedly to fight in the quagmire of Iraq. The rest of our nation has not been asked to make any sacrifice, and every effort has been made to conceal or minimize public awareness of casualties.

Instead of cherishing our role as the great champion of human rights, we now find civil liberties and personal privacy grossly violated under some extreme provisions of the Patriot Act.

Of even greater concern is that the U.S. has repudiated the Geneva accords and espoused the use of torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, and secretly through proxy regimes elsewhere with the so-called extraordinary rendition program. It is embarrassing to see the president and vice president insisting that the CIA should be free to perpetrate "cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment" on people in U.S. custody.

Instead of reducing America's reliance on nuclear weapons and their further proliferation, we have insisted on our right (and that of others) to retain our arsenals, expand them, and therefore abrogate or derogate almost all nuclear arms control agreements negotiated during the last 50 years. We have now become a prime culprit in global nuclear proliferation. America also has abandoned the prohibition of "first use" of nuclear weapons against nonnuclear nations, and is contemplating the previously condemned deployment of weapons in space.

Protection of the environment has fallen by the wayside because of government subservience to political pressure from the oil industry and other powerful lobbying groups. The last five years have brought continued lowering of pollution standards at home and almost universal condemnation of our nation's global environmental policies.

Our government has abandoned fiscal responsibility by unprecedented favors to the rich, while neglecting America's working families. Members of Congress have increased their own pay by $30,000 per year since freezing the minimum wage at $5.15 per hour (the lowest among industrialized nations).

I am extremely concerned by a fundamentalist shift in many houses of worship and in government, as church and state have become increasingly intertwined in ways previously thought unimaginable.

As the world's only superpower, America should be seen as the unswerving champion of peace, freedom and human rights. Our country should be the focal point around which other nations can gather to combat threats to international security and to enhance the quality of our common environment. We should be in the forefront of providing human assistance to people in need.

It is time for the deep and disturbing political divisions within our country to be substantially healed, with Americans united in a common commitment to revive and nourish the historic political and moral values that we have espoused during the last 230 years.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing the words of one of the most intellegent and compassionate souls of our time. He has never been afraid to say what is, ironic isn't it? But to go a step further; the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us is ever-widening, with the majority of the homeless now consisting of women and children, the mentally ill, and veterans. Currently over 70% of the world's wealth is held by a mere 3 % of the entire world's population, most Americans. Where there was once individual media outlets, now over 90% of the media is owned by 7 corporations (think about that next time you watch the news). Education is a priviledge based upon property taxes, elimating equal opportunity at birth. The rights afforded the citizans of this country are now handed out discriminately to the precious few. If one should be of color, gay, poor, or simply on hard times, be prepared to forgoe your rights as an American citizan. God forbid if one should be Muslim....the Patriot Act has made it legal once again to institute a policy of racial profiling, not to mention eliminate the first five amendments and bill of rights. Demacrocy and captilism, do they exist? We've given the perks of the two to a slim minority while the rest simply go without...both, as they go hand in hand.