Remembering "The Greatest Generation"

Today is my mother’s birthday; she would have been 98.  I’m glad she’s not alive to see what her beloved America has become.  She wouldn’t recognize it, but she would understand.

My mother and father were both first born of immigrant parents.  Neither of them finished high school.  They were married in 1936 at the height of the Depression, and their marriage lasted 62 years, with neither one of them ever straying.  Practically unheard of today.

My father lived his American Dream, but it came much later in his life.  He finally took the plunge and started his own business at age 55.  When he finally retired 18 years later, due to his health, his rented one desk with partition, had turned into a multi-thousand sq. ft. factory.  I ask myself, could he and others like him, achieve that success today?  Still, I believe the answer is yes, but with much greater difficulty.

Every generation goes through its watershed moment.  For my parents, it was the Great Depression followed by the Second World War.  For me, it was Vietnam and the resulting craziness with the hippie culture, followed by Watergate.  Others point to the Berlin Wall/end of the Cold War, or to 9/11.

These watershed moments have their greatest value in our lives by how we get through them, not only economically, but culturally.  The Great Depression photos of the long bread lines are but faded memories for many, yet during those times it seemed that people had to toughen up, pull together and help each other as best they could.  It was that same toughness that brought my parents and grandparents through WWII.

Today, we are experiencing another watershed moment.   We are watching the chipping away of individual freedoms and the corruption of the American Dream, not only for some, but for everyone.  The values that people, like myself, grew up with in the “leave it to Beaver” generation are now scoffed at and ridiculed.  Self-reliance, individualism is sacrificed to the “team” and the “committee.”  And if we do succeed, by our own labor and efforts, we’re now told we have to share our success with others, because it’s “fair.”

How ever each one of us defines our “America,” our instincts tell us that there’s something going terribly wrong, and that’s why we, as a people, are so unsettled this election year.  We hear the divisions that are being purposely created.  Have you noticed that when we listen to speeches, or politics are being dissected, that we hear “women”, “Latinos,” “Blacks,” “gays,” “Catholics,” “the 1%,” “working-class whites,” but what we don’t often hear is “us” or “we?”

I lived and worked abroad in countries where people for generations lived under communism.  I saw first-hand what I term, “equality in poverty.”  This is why I recognize the signs and understand this is the most important election of our lifetime.

Our parents didn’t work, scrimp and save, as many of us have as well, so that we can hand our children and grandchildren $16 trillion in debt and counting. Our natural resources remain in the ground, while new drilling permits have slowed to a trickle, yet we’re told to expect $4-$5/gal to be the new norm.  Forty-nine percent of Americans pay no income tax, 42.5% of unemployed Americans have been out of work six months or longer, the number of unemployed, working part-time, or given up looking for work is at 14.5%.  And just this week, one of proudest achievements of American technology and ingenuity, the space shuttle and manned space flight, was relegated to the Smithsonian.

Space shuttle Enterprise atop a 747 in New York (Michael Heiman-Getty Images)

Yes, my mother, if alive today would understand.  She, my father, and millions of their generation knew that freedom, economic and personal, comes at a price.  We don’t always get what we want, life isn’t always “fair.”

My dad always told me, “no one owes you a living.”  When we go into the voting booth in November, we’ll make our choice.  We either continue down the path we’re on to a larger, more intrusive Government, leading to more “fair” entitlements and eventual bankruptcy, or, we strike a blow for the return of limited government, based upon individual liberty and self-reliance.

If we make the right choice, then we’ll have earned the mantle from the “Greatest Generation.”