Judd Gregg: Will the boomers leave us bust?

Judd Gregg: Will the boomers leave us bust?
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It is not unusual for an older generation to believe that the following generations are not performing well; or have no sense of history; or are simply not up to their elders’ standards.

Henry Adams, the great grandson of John Quincy Adams and a renowned historian of the late 19th century, authored a treatise on this subject pointing out the foibles of what was then the younger generation. 

Of course, the generation he was complaining about included such massively influential folks as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.

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They were people who fundamentally changed the world and the lives of Americans, mostly for the better.

Thus, this grousing by the older generations about the lesser qualities of younger generations is not always accurate.

Today, however, we have a new and rather fascinating tangent to such complaints.

Today, the older or “baby boom” generation — a designation that seems a bit ironic since they are now well into senior age — is definitely out of sorts.

But the baby boomers are not primarily grumbling about the coming generations. Instead, rather unusually, they are expressing frustration with their generation.

You could ask, why does this even matter?  They are just a bunch of old people.

It matters for a series of reasons.

First, they remain the largest generation in the post-world war period. Their demographic clout has changed the nation fundamentally as they have moved through the different stages of their lives.

Second, they are generally well-off. They are arguably the most prosperous generation in the history of the world.

Third, they are going to live a lot longer then any generation before them. In fact, the fastest-growing demographic group in percentage terms will soon be those turning 80. It is expected that a significant number will live to be 100 or older.

This is also the generation who were the foot soldiers in the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King in the sixties. They energized the women’s movement. They rejected the politics of corruption and deceit of the Nixon years.

They drove the massive expansion in economic strength and the success of the nation throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, into the 21st century.

But now they must deal with themselves.

One of the most significant issues they confront is whether, for their own personal benefit, they will pass onto their children and grandchildren a less prosperous nation, potentially with a lower standard of living.

The costs that are being run up by the baby boom generation through entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and soon Medicaid are astronomical. They exceed $80 trillion in unfunded liabilities.

These costs will have to be borne by coming generations. They are already causing the debt of the nation to explode on an unsustainable upward trajectory.

This should be an intolerable legacy.

Most baby boomers know this but simply have not been willing to face reality.

This is a looming sword of fiscal mayhem.

It cannot be blamed on the inadequacies of following generations. It is something that the baby boomers need to address.

Equally significant is that the leadership of the nation is in the hands of one of the baby boomers’ own, President TrumpDonald John TrumpWSJ: Trump ignored advice to confront Putin over indictments Trump hotel charging Sean Spicer ,000 as book party venue Bernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin MORE.

He is not only a card-carrying baby boomer. He is also someone whom, to some extent, they are having trouble taking credit for.

It is of course difficult to generalize regarding a generation that has so many people, but baby boomers for the most part have lived through times when the United States has been the leader of the free world, not only in terms of its strength but also in terms of its values.

It was the protector not only of civil rights, but also of liberty.

It was the place the world turned to promote and drive economic growth, not only within its borders but internationally.

America spearheaded a coalition of allies around the world that believed in freedom, democracy and trade.

Our presidents, although some were clearly flawed, did move the world to look to us for leadership on numerous issues — the most important being individual rights, liberty and market economics as a path to prosperity.

Trump, in his topsy-turvey actions, has called into question all these legacies that so defined who we are.

He has a style that causes many of his generation to wonder if he is of their generation.

Baby boomers must ask themselves, do they really want to pass onto their children a nation that they have essentially bankrupted in order to benefit themselves? 

They must also ask themselves, do we really want to fritter away, through tweets and inconsistency, the high ground that America and its past presidents have represented to the world?

This legacy has been built in large part by the efforts of the baby boom generation.

In an unusual twist of history, it is not the next or the following generations that baby boomers need to be concerned about. It is themselves.  

To apply the words of the cartoon character Pogo to the baby boomers:  “We have met the enemy and he is us."

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee