The day the O.J. Simpson verdict was announced, I said to my then-teenage son, "David, please forgive me. I am handing over to you a worse America than my father handed over to me."
Unfortunately, I still feel this way.
With the important exception of racial discrimination -- which was already dying a natural death when I was young -- it is difficult to come up with an important area in which America is significantly better than when I was a boy. But I can think of many in which its quality of life has deteriorated.
When I was a boy, America was a freer society than it is today. If Americans had been told the extent and number of laws that would govern their speech and behavior within one generation, they would have been certain that they were being told about some dictatorship, not the Land of the Free. Today, people at work, to cite but one example, are far less free to speak naturally. Every word, gesture and look, even one's illustrated calendar, is now monitored lest a fellow employee feel offended and bring charges of sexual harassment or creating a "hostile work environment" or being racially, religiously or ethnically insensitive, or insensitive to another's sexual orientation.
Meanwhile, all employers in California are now prohibited by law from firing a man who has decided to cross-dress at work. And needless to say, no fellow worker can say to that man, "Hey, Jack, why not wear the dress at home and men's clothes to work?" An employer interviewing a prospective employee is not free to ask the most natural human questions: Are you married? Do you have a child? How old are you? Soon "How are you?" will be banned lest one discriminate on the basis of health.
When I was boy, what people did at home was not their employer's business. Today, companies and city governments refuse to hire, and may fire, workers no matter how competent or healthy, who smoke in their homes. Sarasota, Fla., the latest city to invade people's private lives, would not hire Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy if they applied for a job.
When I was a 7-year-old boy, I flew alone from New York to my aunt and uncle in Miami and did the same thing coming back to New York. I boarded the plane on my own and got off the plane on my own. No papers for my parents to fill out. No extra fee to pay the airline. I was responsible for myself. Had I run away or been kidnapped, no one would have sued the airline. Today, fear of lawsuits is a dominant fact of American life.