You know your government is bad shape when it starts comparing itself to fallen empires of the past. Unfortunately, that’s the case in modern America.
The Government Accountability Office, the independent agency charged with investigating the (in)efficiency of government programs, recently warned us that our “burning platform” of unsustainable public policies was so dire that the agency felt obliged to warn of the “striking similarities” between our government’s situation today and the fall of the Roman Empire.
In this panoramic landscape of abject government failure, political liability should spread across the generations. Intransigent leaders from the Silent Generation have delayed social and political progress. The apathy of voters from Generations X and Y has entrenched the power of reckless and incompetent politicians. But given their power, influence and rhetoric, the leaders hailing from the Baby Boomer generation have been the most disappointing in their contributions to our current mess.
Baby Boomers have occupied the White House since 1993 and have held a solid majority in the House of Representatives since 1998. In the U.S. Senate, which has a higher age requirement, Boomers have still held nearly half the votes since the turn of the century, even gaining a brief one-vote majority from 2003 to 2007. A whopping thirty-seven of our fifty states currently have Baby Boomer governors. One wonders, given this impressive hold on power for the past decade, what does this legendary generation have to show for itself politically? Or in other words, what have these 1960s idealists, now boasting decades of real-world experience, done to strengthen our democracy and lead us into the new millennium? (Answer: Not much.)
As the obstacles to our nation’s progress have mounted, Baby Boomer political leaders have largely sought to deflect responsibility, avoid tough decisions, and instead focus their efforts on discrediting their political opponents. As the Boomers have grown in their influence, they have not only failed to solve problems, but in many ways, they have left American Democracy worse off.
Along with their manifold policy failures, Boomers have led American politics into what Andrew Sullivan has called “the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation.” Nowhere is their childish bickering more apparent than the partisan mud-flinging that currently passes for political commentary. Best-selling conservative Boomer pundits such as Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity, et. al, pen a dizzying number of worthless screeds accusing their political opponents of treason, stupidity and hypocrisy, and their best-selling Left Boomer pundit counterparts, Michael Moore, Al Franken, et al, respond in kind with equally nauseating vitriol.
The Boomers’ failures are distributed uniformly from Right to Left. But given the liberal-leaning Boomers’ original rise from the 1960s counterculture, their weak-kneed absorption into the partisan political establishment is most ironic. The generation that fought for free speech and the right to question authority now enforces strict political correctness and quashes political dissent from their tenured posts in academia.
The proverbial light at the end of the proverbial tunnel
Perhaps the only hope for change lies with the younger generations – Generation X and my generation, the millennials – who will someday, inevitably, take over power.
Granted in many ways, relying on my generation is a risky bet. We’re known mostly for our political apathy and ignorance of current events. We don’t even care to vote, know who our representatives are, or really feel the need to have any sort of political identity whatsoever.
But as we know, things can change. If there’s anything that the Baby Boomers prove, it is that political activism in one’s youth fails to translate to effective political leadership in one’s better years. Seriously – why not us?
In many ways, our generation is best equipped to help lead America through the challenges of the 21st century. We’ve got lifetime experience with modern trends like computer technology and globalization, and thus are the most capable of transcending the fear, cultural division and xenophobia with which most of our elders face those new realities.
Our entrepreneurial streak – our peers have founded some of the most innovative new media companies in the world – makes us better understand the importance of fiscal responsibility, market competition and open trade.
Raised on rap music, lascivious music videos and violent video games, we are remarkably adept at making our own judgments of personal morality, whether or not our parents believe it. Our love of social networking leaves us appreciative both of individual expression and group association. Our advanced technical knowledge of computer networks can even help us better understand how terrorist networks operate. We have no working memory of the Cold War, and thus much less interested in the divisive ideological battling that afflicts the Boomers who cannot seemingly escape that period.
Will the late-coming millennials, currently wallowing in their self-absorbed world, put those brilliant social resources to work and actually change something? Here’s hoping.
The author of The American Evolution, Matt Harrison is the founder and executive director of The Prometheus Institute, Los Angeles, CA, a nonprofit public policy institute. He has authored more than 200 articles and has been a guest on several talk radio shows and a guest blogger for CNN.