Our school and college years we recall as idyllic: a time when we joyfully embraced learning, sports, and development of new social skills. From the national cultures of the Great Depression and WWII, we were raised to be thrifty, patriotic and communitarian. While we were too old to have our beliefs changed by the social craziness of the 1960s, we did engage in the civil rights and environmental movements of the time. Our view of the world was more akin to that of the preceding generation -- "The Greatest Generation" -- than the generations that followed ours.
We served our country in peace time military service, gaining maturity and developing new skills. As we entered the workforce, our country was the unquestioned master of the world. Our traditional competitors were struggling to overcome the devastating results of WWII, and our technology reined supreme. Even though the Cold War threatened a cataclysmic destruction of our world, the threat never seemed real. Optimism and belief in the exceptionalism of our nation ruled the day.
In the early decades of our lives, our nation faced up to the critical issues of the times, coming together to accomplish great things: Social Security, disability insurance and workers' compensation in the 1930s established the foundation of a national safety net for all citizens; the GI Bill and Marshall Plan in the 1940s opened the doors of higher education to millions and aided our European allies in rebuilding their shattered economies; and Medicare, Medicaid and civil rights legislation in the 1960s offered health care to the poor and elderly, and extended equal rights to all.
In our time, if you had a decent education, a willingness to work hard and could draw a breath, you could secure a good job -- one that promised a good life for you, and a better life for your children. So I worked hard, prospered and retired. The wind was always at my back, the road was smooth and the sun shone brightly on my head. I give great thanks for all the advantages that accrued to my generation and that made our prosperity possible.
But, as I look to the futures of my children and grandchildren, I cannot forecast an equally optimistic outcome. My generation and its successor have failed in our stewardship. Through our profligacy, we have left our children a nation staggering under a mountain of debt. We have left a nation dependent upon unstable and often hostile countries for its energy supply -- and yet unable to adopt a national energy strategy. Our legacy includes a nation unwilling to recognize the reality of climate change; a nation with an ever increasing separation of the rich and the poor; and a nation whose addiction to drugs has precipitated a "war" beyond our southern border that has taken more than 40,000 lives.
This is not the legacy I had wished to leave my children and grandchildren.
But, where can my generation start to redress the problems we have passed to our successors? I believe there are two courses of action immediately available to us: First, we can work hard in the coming elections to elect public officials who place the good of the nation before the narrow interests of their party, officials with sufficient intellect to understand the consequences of our collective failure to tackle the issues facing our nation and who have the courage to act. Second, those of us who benefitted so richly from the bounty of the nation we inherited, must be willing to return some portion of that gift to those who follow us.
While my generation can no longer lead, it can make a meaningful contribution to restoring hope and opportunity to those who follow us. This is the least we can do in gratitude for all that we received.