Do as I say, not as I do
October 9, 2011 | By Joseph Curl
The first American generation to live a life of luxury, with scads of idle time to while away lounging and thinking, often half-stoned, was mine.
Born in the 1950s and '60s, the generation has known none of the hardships of their parents, born during the Great Depression and living through World War II. And they are literally light years from their grandparents - my grandfather used to tell stories about life before electricity, of outhouses in the Chicago winter, and how, out of work, he sold "four-in-hand" clip-on neckties for a penny on the street to young men looking for work.
His generation - the Lost Generation - produced the Greatest Generation, which in turn produced the Silent Generation. A 1951 Time magazine cover story defined that last group: "Youth today is waiting for the hand of fate to fall on its shoulders, meanwhile working fairly hard and saying almost nothing. The most startling fact about the younger generation is its silence. With some rare exceptions, youth is nowhere near the rostrum. By comparison with the Flaming Youth of their fathers and mothers, today's younger generation is a still-small flame. It does not issue manifestos, make speeches or carry posters. It has been called the 'Silent Generation.'"
That generation produced the Baby Boomers, from 1946 to 1964. Some 75 million postwar babies were born in that period, marked by rapid expansion of the middle class. The new generation lived in an idyllic time, a Norman Rockwell America, free from want, from war. And unlike their parents, they went off to college, the first generation to flock to the institutions of higher learning.
There, in the turbulent 1960s, they took issue with society, rejected traditional values, social mores. They were, relative to all other generations before them, the healthiest and wealthiest Americans ever. And yet they despised the America they lived in. As the U.S. fell into another war, this time in Vietnam, the idle college students took to the streets in anti-war protests and staged sit-ins at their universities. They were mad at The Man - more precisely, the military-industrial complex - that was sending them to war for greed.
The Baby Boomers produced an even softer offspring: Generation X. Author John Ulrich wrote that this generation turned away from politics and world affairs, defining them as "a group of young people, seemingly without identity, who face an uncertain, ill-defined (and perhaps hostile) future." Despite the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the invention of cable TV, the home computer and the Internet (not to mention video games), the MTV generation wanted everything - now - for free. With no understanding of the world in which their grandparents grew up, they believed they were owed success as a birthright.
Which brings us to today's youth, Generation Y. Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe say this generation is the "Fourth Turning," which will question the very structure of society and seek to redefine it. They perceive the banks and "big business" as the devil and government as the good (which explains how in their America, nearly half the population lives in a household that receives money from the federal government).
It is this generation, aka the iGeneration, that today sits on Wall Street. And here are some of their demands: A single-payer health care system in which "private insurers must be banned from the health care market." A guaranteed living wage income regardless of employment. Free college education. One trillion dollars in infrastructure spending now. Oh, and $1 trillion in "ecological restoration."
But the very best is Demand Eleven: "Immediate across-the-board debt forgiveness for all. Debt forgiveness of sovereign debt, commercial loans, home mortgages, home equity loans, credit card debt, student loans and personal loans now! All debt must be stricken."
Their spiritual leader is, of course, President Obama. He is incensed with how much money he makes and very much wishes he could give more of it to the government. "We should ask people like me to give up tax breaks that we don't need and werent even asking for," he is fond of saying.
But that was last week, before Mr. Obama headed off to the golf course (free round, of course) with his personal chef. After 18 holes, he flew in his personal helicopter to his presidential retreat, a 120-acre compound tucked away in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains. There, he'll enjoy a weekend of tennis, bowling, horseshoes, basketball, fly fishing, swimming, archery, skeet shooting and hiking, whatever his heart desires.
And the throng protesting on Wall Street is just fine with that. It's The Man they have a problem with.