2010 Elections / Teabaggers

Boomers and the Tea Party: The Last Hurrah for Soldiers of Misfortune

Boomers and the Tea Party:
The Last Hurrah for Soldiers of Misfortune

July 19, 2010

The plight of the aging baby boomers can be summarized by an old joke about how to get a small fortune: “Start with a large fortune.”

The children of the Greatest Generation inherited an economic and military superpower unrivaled in history. Sadly this “fortune” has decayed and is falling into disrepair as they have engaged in the fiscal equivalent of Rake’s Progress. Now, as aging boomers embrace the Tea Party movement, they risk squandering this fortune altogether.

Bill Clinton used to say that “if you see a turtle on top of a fence, it’s a pretty safe bet he didn’t get there by himself.” The baby boomers’ fortune is the result of the efforts of their parents who grew up amidst widespread poverty but invested in housing, education and an infrastructure that made us an economic superpower. Somehow the Tea Party boomers have learned nothing from their parents and apparently believe that both they and the turtle got to where they are on their own initiative.

Despite the fact that they are wealthier and pay less in taxes than their parents did, they are suddenly angry about government “tyranny” and want “their country” back; an ironic thought considering that they have sold, outsourced, and mortgaged “their country” whenever possible.

Nonetheless, they have embraced the Tea Party slogans to scale back government, give out more tax cuts and return to failed laissez-faire economics of the past. They want to “rely on the marketplace as an efficient regulator of business activity.”

Think of the turtle. Is the marketplace the reason we broke the boom and bust cycle and have avoided a depression since the New Deal or why cars are much safer today? Alternatively, is the BP disaster or recent increases in food contamination the result of too much government?

Tea Party fundamentalists also want to establish a firewall between government and the marketplace since they believe government interference in the marketplace threatens liberty and increases the probability of “economic depression and poverty.”

What few of them comprehend is that they work in industries, live in communities and use technology that to some extent owe their existence to government intervention long before Barack Obama took office. For example, the Transcontinental Railway was completed in 1869 through government grants and loans; government funded research and Defense Department and NASA demand fueled and sustained the early growth of the semiconductor, PC and software industries; and it was Defense Department research that developed the Internet. This is in addition to the work of state universities, such as those in Michigan which are estimated to generate $26 of economic impact for each dollar spent.

The tea party “platform” would be funny were it not so dangerous. Imposing a firewall between government and the markets at a time when competitors such as China are outspending us 6:1 in green technology for example would be tantamount to unilateral disarmament in the battle for hegemony in the 21st century. In fact, in 2008 the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine issued a rare joint report warning that U.S. supremacy in technology was being challenged and “[t]he inadequacies of our system of research and education pose a greater threat to U.S. national security over the next quarter century than any potential conventional war that we might imagine.”

This is of little concern to the Tea Party boomers since, unlike their parents who responded to Pearl Harbor with service and sacrifice and quickly turned war deficits into a budget surplus upon their return, the boomers responded to 9/11 by asking us to shop, handing out unprecedented tax cuts during wartime while putting two wars on a government credit card. In fact, recently California Republicans ignored these concerns and boasted about stripping all tax increases from the budget (including establishing an oil extracting tax which all other oil states but California have) that instead cut funding for the once great California universities by twenty percent.

The boomers call themselves Tea Party Patriots because they love to talk about how much they love America, unlike their parents who did so by deed. This is not a movement of boomer patriots, but rather the whine of the Free Lunch Society who banquet from the harvest of their parents’ sacrifice while leaving the bill to their children. Sadly the Greatest Generation has left us the Gangrenous Generation who would rather watch the nation decay than pay a nickel more in taxes.

Even the Turtle knows that if the Tea Party movement succeeds and is able to push the same policies that got us into this mess, we’ll have to update the old joke. Q: “How do you become a second tier nation?”

Chart Note:

Assumes GG born in 1920, BB in 1950 (although BB data only through 2008).
: Census, Income Limits for Each Fifth and Top 5 Percent of Families (All Races): 1947 to 2008 (used median income); Tax Foundation, Average and Marginal Federal Income Tax Rates for Four-Person Families at the Same Relative Positions in the Income Distribution (used median income); Data360, Federal Government Surplus (Deficit) as Percent of Receipts; President’s Budget for FY 2008, Federal Debt At The End Of Year: 1940-2012; Census Bureau; State and Local Capital Outlays; National Center for Education Statistics, Average Undergraduate Tuition And Fees And Room And Board Rates Charged For Full-Time Students In Degree-Granting Institutions, By Type And Control Of Institution:; Mine Safety & Health Administration, Coal Fatalities for 1900 Through 2009; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Fatality And Fatality Rates Per Million Miles Traveled.