Victor Davis Hanson

Here is how our baby-boom generation solves problems:

— Recently, George Bush went to Saudi Arabia to ask the ruling House of Saud to pump more oil. That request had about as much chance of success as the Democratic-led congressional effort to “sue” the Saudis in American courts for their selfish “price-gouging.”

The current debate about energy in the United States has devolved into doing the same old thing — consume, don’t produce and complain — while somehow expecting different results. Congress talks endlessly about the bright future of wind, solar and new fuels, while it stops us from getting through the messy present by utilizing abundant coal, shale and tar sands; nuclear power; and oil still untapped in Alaska and off our coasts.

— For the past five years, we fretted over a “housing boom” that had priced an entire generation out of the market. In response, government and lending agencies got “creative” by relaxing standards to allow shaky “first-time” buyers into the red-hot market of high-priced homes. Home-improvement TV shows proliferated on how to “flip” houses and buy “no-down-payment” properties.

When the bubble inevitably burst, cries of outrage followed about how “they” (never “we”) caused a “depression” in housing. Our leaders shrieked about greedy lenders and incompetent regulators who foreclosed on us — never that the American people themselves caused much of the speculation problem, or that housing prices are finally becoming affordable again for new couples.

— Over 70 percent of the American people, and a majority of Democratic senators, wanted to remove Saddam Hussein — overwhelming support for the administration’s war that rose even higher as a brilliant campaign finished off the Baathists in three weeks.

But when a messy insurgency erupted, suddenly we heard that our victory was ruined by “their stupid occupation.”

— The current Social Security system is unsustainable. But the baby boomers who gave us Botox aren’t about to up the retirement age and freeze their own cost-of-living hikes to allow the cash-strapped next generation a little help in paying for our out-of-control benefits.

There is a pattern in all these dilemmas. And it is not conservative-versus-liberal politics, but generational chaos. Those who came of age in the 1960s now hold the reins of power and influence — and we are starting to see why their values have worried almost everyone for nearly a half-century.

History has seen something like them before in the “blame them” years of Demosthenes’ Athens, the self-indulgence of Julio-Claudian Rome, the “after me, the deluge” generation of late 18th-century France, the Gilded Age, and the Roaring Twenties.

What are the baby boomers’ collective traits? Like all perpetual adolescents who suffer arrested development, we always want things both ways: Don’t drill or explore for more energy, but nevertheless demand ever more fuel from other suppliers.

There are never bad and worse choices, but only a Never Never Land of good and even-better alternatives. Housing not only has to stay affordable for buyers, but also must appreciate in value to give instant equity to those who have just become owners.

When things don’t go well, we always blame someone else. Why drill off Santa Barbara or Alaska when we can sue those terrible Saudis for not putting more oil platforms in their Persian Gulf?

And why accept that the conduct of all wars is flawed and victory goes usually to those who persevere in making the needed adjustments when we can just keep pointing fingers at the official who disbanded the Iraqi army or sent too few troops after the invasion?

The sense of self-importance is never far away. We “earned” our generous unsustainable Social Security benefits, so why should we have to suffer by cutting them?

Sociologists have correctly diagnosed the perfect storm that created the “me” generation — sudden postwar affluence, sacrificing parents who did not wish us to suffer as they had in the Great Depression and World War II, and the rise of therapeutic education that encouraged self-indulgence.

Perhaps the greatest trademark of the 1960s cohort was self-congratulation. Baby boomers alone claimed to have brought about changes in civil rights, women’s liberation and environmental awareness — as if these were not prior concerns of earlier generations.

We apparently created all of our wealth rather than having inherited our roads, schools and bountiful infrastructure from someone else. And in our self-absorption, no one accepted that our notorious appetites created more problems than our supposed “caring” solved.

Our present problems were not really caused by an unpopular president, a spendthrift Congress, the neocon bogeymen, the greedy Saudis, shifty bankers or corporate oilmen in black hats and handlebar moustaches — much less the anonymous “they.”

The fault of this age, dear baby boomers, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.