On Saturday, I had brunch with a group of friends, two of them who served as former staff members when I was in politics, and all of them still working at their careers. We are a group of nine and I am the senior citizen, retired and separated from the youngest member by 14 years. It’s a gathering of people who take an active interest in politics and is well read. Our conversations run the gamut from satire – one of our members does standup comedy – to some very serious talk about where the world is going. I listen with interest to this generation that is not mine. They are baby boomers and I am … well what am I? I’m the generation depicted in the TV program, “Happy Days.” I wore skirts with crinoline petticoats under them, sweater sets and saddle oxfords with bobby sox. Frank Sinatra made the fair sex swoon, and girls with boyfriends knitted argyle sox for their guys. I can remember Franklin Delano Roosevelt and World War II but I was in elementary school so except for buying freedom stamps and assembling Red Cross kits for the soldiers overseas, I didn’t do much for the war effort, not like members of the” Great Generation.” I don’t know what my generation is called. I guess we were so boring we didn’t get a name. We had no real drug problem then. Etiquette was still part of the school curriculum and one class period a day, the girls went off to do home economics where we learned to sew and bake muffins. The boys went off to woodworking or shop.
My generation slipped between wars. We were too young to be called up for the Korean “police action,” too old for the Viet Nam war and far too old for Dessert Storm, the Iraq War or the Afghan war. We worked hard, like everyone does growing up and starting a family. We took abundance for granted. A world economy didn’t exist. Americans lived in splendid isolation, knowing where Canada was but uncertain about any place else.
How different the world felt as I listened to my younger friends on Saturday. Their conversation was about scarcity, conserving and a fear that life for their children will offer fewer opportunities than they had. They worry too about cutbacks in their pensions. Hearing their concerns, I began to wonder if my era shouldn’t be called “the thoughtless generation.” We didn’t see the harm in our way of life. We bought new cars every 2-4 years and threw away broken toasters instead of fixing them. We didn’t mean to squander resources. We thought consumption was good for America.
One of our country’s most visionary writers, Thomas Jefferson, drafted a Constitution that pledged to create a nation that would bring the blessings of liberty and prosperity upon all its citizens. My generation forgot to honor that pledge. We forgot about “We the people,” and thought instead about “me the individual.” For that, I’m sorry. It’s late in my lifetime, but I will renew the commitment Jack Kennedy required of us years ago: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” I am old enough to know that when one person has it all, others have nothing. I don’t want that. I want young Americans to receive a good education. I want my fellow citizens to have access to health care. I want every person to have shelter. I want to eliminate hunger in American. To that end, I will never, ever complain about higher taxes. I will welcome them as my commitment to the common good. That is my apology to my countrymen.