The Baby Boomer Legacy

In today's Wall Street Journal (June 10, 2009) is an article entitled "Boomers to This Year's Grads: We Are Really, Really Sorry."

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, 60, tells the graduating class at Butler University that boomers have been "self-absorbed, self-indulgent and all too often just plain selfish." In addition, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, 44, tells seniors at Colorado College that "our generation has not been faithful enough to our grandparents' example."

The purpose of the article is to stress Baby Boomers' failures with respect to the economy. This is all well and good, and certainly appropriate for a college graduation, but the real legacy of the Boomer generation is its impact on America's moral fiber. Neil Howe, an author and historian highlighted in the article, said the social movements of the 1960s "caved in on itself" as boomers focused more on "their own inner voyage" and less on their obligation to society.

Indeed they did, and the results have been disastrous. While Boomers weren't the first group to lead a revolt in this country, theirs was life-altering, dramatic -- and has left a permanent scar on American culture. There was a time -- before Boomers did their damage -- when America was a unified nation. "Before the sixties, most Americans believed in a universal moral order that is external to us, that makes demands on us. Our obligation was to conform to that moral order and its commandments: work hard and try to better yourself, be faithful to your spouse, go when your country calls, and so on," writes Dinesh D'Souza in Letter to a Young Conservative. But, he continues, "Beginning in the sixties, several factions -- the antiwar movement, the feminist movement, the gay activist movement, and so on -- attacked that moral consensus as narrow and oppressive. They fought for a new ethic that would be based not on external authority but on the sovereignty of the inner self."

This revolt, which began over forty years ago, has officially made its mark on American society. We are no longer a unified nation. Rather, we are split down the middle: on one side are those who still believe in a universal moral order -- we call them "conservatives," but it includes Kennedy Democrats as well -- and on the other are those who remain faithful to the inner self. (Today we call these folks "modern liberals" in order to distinguish them from old-time liberals like Kennedy.) Once the universal moral order was replaced with the new ethic of being "true to oneself," American society began its decline. Now fast-forward several decades. The Boomer philosophy is the reason partial-birth abortion is not considered a travesty by 100% of the population. It's the reason parenting has changed for the worse. It's the reason divorce is accepted and even embraced. It's the reason public schools are a disgrace. It's the reason sex education is a license for kids to engage in casual sex. The consequences of taking the focus off of society and onto the desires of the individual is mind-numbingly far-reaching.

Which is why I'm so grateful for having had older parents. I was born in 1968 -- technically, a Generation Xer -- but my parents were at least a decade older than my friends' parents. They were part of the World War II generation, whose values were not embraced by the Boomers. As documentary filmmaker Ken Burns said in an interview last month, the Boomers' greatest tragedy was to "squander the legacy handed to them by the generation from World War II."

Though I escaped the Boomer influence by luck of the draw, there were times when I wished my parents were more like my friends' parents. My friends' parents dressed a little different, talked a little different, and basically were just "nicer" -- which, to a child simply means a person's not strict. My friends' parents were more "open." Tolerant. Cool. Hip. The way so many of their children, who are now parents, grew up to be. As Reb Bradley points out in Born Liberal, Raised Right, "It is our parents who, by their style of discipline and training, shape our views of authority and develop our outlook on life." In other words, if I had had Baby Boomer parents, chances are I'd be a modern liberal -- which means I'd no doubt contribute to our nation's moral decline.

Thank God my parents weren't hip.

The naysayers will be shocked at my claims. Don't I believe in progress, they'll ask. Are we supposed to be stuck in the fifties forever? To which I say: Of course not. Progress is good, even encouraged by most Americans -- conservative and liberal -- but the fact remains that there are some things in life that never, ever, ever, ever change. Things that, when dismissed, make life a helluva lot more difficult -- and people a helluva a lot less happy. Things like faith in God. Lasting marriages. Parents at home. Respect for authority. Repsect for life. Service to others. Sacrifice.

These things, these traditional values (we should call them classic values), can be questioned all day long -- in fact they have been for decades now, since the Boomers began their revolt -- but, in the end, they still work. They even work alongside progress. Just like clothing, some things never go out of style.

I have to believe America will see this someday. As Winston Churchill once said, "We can always count on Americans to do the right thing...after they've exhausted all other possibilities."

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