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A Generation of Termites?

Posted on Apr 29, 2011
AP Photo/Ryan J. Foley

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan speaks during a listening session at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, Wis. in this photo taken on June 3, 2010.

By Joe Conason

The aging of the baby boom generation has not improved its reputation. Having brought immense positive change to this country, the postwar population wave is frequently castigated as a self-seeking and even selfish cohort by members of the generations that have followed, who worry that those nearing retirement will cost too much to maintain amid dimming economic prospects.

That isn’t how the boomers see themselves, of course, but that selfish stereotype is at the center of America’s budget politics these days—especially the Republican Party’s sweeping proposals to reorder priorities and reduce deficits, authored by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

The most obvious signal in Ryan’s plan is that he exempts almost all of the boomers from his scheme to abolish Medicare and replace the highly popular and successful system with vouchers that would continuously diminish in value. As the budget chairman and his colleagues confront the fury that this idea has provoked among older voters, their chief selling point is that the changes won’t affect anyone who is now 55 or over.

So they promise that if you’re in the lucky boomer contingent, there is no need to worry—and no need to concern yourself with those who someday soon will have to purchase adequate health insurance with wholly inadequate funding.

In other words, the Republicans are relying on the allegedly mercenary character of the older voters who supported them so heavily last year, based on their vow to “protect” Medicare from mythical Democratic cutbacks. The GOP evidently hopes to persuade those voters, enraged by the bait-and-switch represented by the Ryan plan, that their narrowest interest is all that matters and will be protected.


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What that means, to put it bluntly, is abandoning the American tradition of a social compact passed from one generation to the next—and the American ideal of a country that each generation preserves and improves for its children and grandchildren.

Indeed, in the guise of saving future generations from excessive federal debt, the same themes of national decay, egotistical greed and irresponsibility pervade the Ryan plan. To pay for enormous tax cuts for the wealthiest few while reducing future deficits, his budget decimates spending that will be essential to the most basic maintenance of infrastructure, education, research and even national security.

We know that the nation’s great network of federal and state highways, bridges, tunnels, ports, airports, railways, stations and subways—the marvelous legacy of previous generations—is rapidly decaying after decades of neglect. The Republicans propose to cut future spending on transportation by half over the coming decade, and still more in the decades that follow, because there will simply be no money to finance repairs, let alone improvements. Not nearly enough to keep roads and bridges in decent condition, and nothing to create the high-speed rail systems boasted by our competitors in Europe and Asia.

The same short-term, self-serving and plainly stupid priorities will wreak equivalent damage on education, training and scientific research. According to the Center for American Progress, the Ryan plan would “disinvest” in education and training by 53 percent, diverting resources away from primary and adult education, career and technical training, community colleges, postsecondary education and student aid, at a time when our world educational status is already in perilous decline.

So if the Republican budget plan (or anything resembling it) is enacted, the boomers, having entered adulthood with the most progressive and idealistic intentions, will fulfill the worst predictions about them. They will leave behind a nation whose shaky social and physical foundations may well collapse into ruin. Are they such a generation of termites, as the Republicans cynically assume? Or will they take responsibility for the future and leave a country to their children still worthy of its name?

To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Copyright 2011

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By Bert Anderson, May 2, 2011 at 7:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I can somewhat understand the incredible greed of those who are looting the country.  But I don’t understand why the looters think it will be wise to leave behind a broken shell full of desperately poor people.

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MarthaA's avatar

By MarthaA, May 1, 2011 at 11:22 am Link to this comment

I am a retired member of the majority population and neither I, nor
any member of my family of which I am aware draws Social
Security.  I wonder how many wealthy people draw unneeded
Social Security? If so, it is definitely something to check. If wealthy
people are drawing Social Security it is one of those best kept secrets.

The wealthy drawing Social Security is a divide and conquer
ploy to lower the percent of people who are allowed to draw
Social Security in retirement down to where there will be only a
few who can draw Social Security and the rest of us will be out in
the cold. A divide and conquer strategy to destroy Social Security
for the majority population and still make them pay into it for the
academic, professional middle class only.

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By mrfreeze, May 1, 2011 at 11:18 am Link to this comment

P.W. Walker   You hit the nail right on the head.

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By Kathy, May 1, 2011 at 8:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I resent your attack on the Baby Boomers.  I am involved
with several proactive groups that are fighting the far
right and their attack on the Social Programs that we
have enjoyed over the last 40 to 60 years, along with
their attack on the unions.  Most of the people that are
involved are 55 and older.  I am horrified to see the
younger people seem to be so involved with themselves
that they do not have the time to actually hear what is
happening.  The younger they are the more attuned they
are to get their information from Tweeter length bits of
information.  Many have been duped into thinking the
Republicans are doing what is best for them. The under 55
generation does not have a memory of what it was like
before, so they seem to have no clue what it will be like
with no safety nets.

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John M's avatar

By John M, May 1, 2011 at 7:27 am Link to this comment

As a 53 year old “Boomer” I have no problem at all
with Ryans proposal for means tested vouchers for
senior care. In fact I welcome it. These programs
should have been means tested from the start, there
is no reason in the world for Ross Perot to receive a
social security check or be eligible for Medicare.

The reason defined benefits are bankrupting cities
and states is due to population. All of the numbers
work up until the baby boom. After the baby boom
something happens that has never happened in American
history, The next generation is smaller , not bigger.
And in the case of the generation following the baby
boom it’s allot smaller. the classic problem with a
ponzi scheme is eventually you don’t have enough
people paying in for everyone to be able to get what
was promised out.

Even U.S. can’t afford generous defined benefit

The defined benefit is dying. Barack Obama is
struggling to keep it alive, but it’s apparent that
it’s something that even as bounteously rich a
society as ours can’t afford.

Oh and after all the crying in Wisconsin the
Democrats in Massachusetts took a look at the books
and figured out Scott Walker was telling the cold
hard truth.

When Governor Scott Walker took steps to limit the
power of public-employee unions and return the power
over policy to the voters of Wisconsin, many of us
knew that the newly-elected Republican would start a
wave of similar efforts in other states.  However,
it’s safe to say that one place we didn’t expect to
see that wave break early on Plymouth Rock.  Not only
has the Massachusetts state House passed a new law
barring all PEUs from collective bargaining on health
care, it passed by a veto-proof majority — because
Democrats pushed the bill:

House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly last night to
strip police officers, teachers, and other municipal
employees of most of their rights to bargain over
health care, saying the change would save millions of
dollars for financially strapped cities and towns.

The 111-to-42 vote followed tougher measures to
broadly eliminate collective bargaining rights for
public employees in Ohio, Wisconsin, and other
states. But unlike those efforts, the push in
Massachusetts was led by Democrats who have
traditionally stood with labor to oppose any
reduction in workers’ rights. …

Under the legislation, mayors and other local
officials would be given unfettered authority to set
copayments and deductibles for their employees, after
the 30-day discussion period with unions. Only the
share of premiums paid by employees would remain on
the health care bargaining table.

Yes, you read that right.  Democrats in Massachusetts
admitted that Scott Walker had the right idea all
along.  In fact, the Commonwealth believes that the
ability to manage health care coverage will save
taxpayers $100 million in the next budget year.

And in another nod to Wisconsin, the House held their
vote at 11:30 last night, hoping to avoid the kind of
demonstrations that Wisconsin Democrats encouraged in

AFL-CIO president Robert J. Haynes is furious that
the politicians he bought turned out to be rented

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By MarthaA, April 30, 2011 at 6:34 pm Link to this comment

People of the majority population trying to hang on to the Republican
Party had better rethink their strategy—it wasn’t Republicans that
started Social Security and Medicare and it definitely will not be
Republicans that protect Social Security and Medicare.

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By P.W. Walker, April 30, 2011 at 1:51 pm Link to this comment

While it is true that you can say the Baby Boomers “bled” the system and credit
themselves with glories they didn’t earn, but never forget the systems were
created on sand.  And Boomers went along for the ride.  Why not?  The future
looked bright for them and no one told them otherwise.  A cynical person may
call it a generation delusion but that requires the benefit of hindsight.

The idea that the future would see endless growth ensured that the Baby
Boomers did save insufficiently as the post-war economy sputters out.  I’m part
of the post-boomer generation that had to move back in with his parents and
enjoys little more than a worthless mechanical engineering degree and a
MASSIVE debt to go with it.

The problem isn’t just the Baby Boomer generation.  No, if I were to single any
particular group out, it would be our “business leaders” who no longer feel part
of the society at all.  Once where the owner would have his office just above the
shop floor, has since been replaced with faceless and diluted shareholders who
entrust mercenary-like minions in middle management.  Management no
longer can be bothered to even step foot on the production floor at all and
many continue in the self-delusion that management skill brings value to any

The whole society is dysfunctional now.

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By felicity, April 30, 2011 at 11:36 am Link to this comment

Ah, the baby-boomers - Between snarls and whimpers, the
ego-possessed, self-involved boomer is like a child
playing at adult life. 

TDoff’s Warhol ‘portrait’ of Ryan would fit the
definition of today’s boomer perfectly.

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By CJ, April 30, 2011 at 10:12 am Link to this comment

Writing as a somewhat older member of the Boomer set, I got no problem with
Conason’s characterization of (most of) us as “self-seeking” and “selfish,” and
wouldn’t even agree we’ve brought much positive. No need to sugar-coat: Most
of us sold out plain and simple. Counter-culture? Who remembers?

Having confessed, I also know our parent’s generation was even worse,
meaning hardly the so-called “greatest.” If we sold out, they never got started
on challenging power, sell-outs from the beginning.

For us, Civil Rights were passed in part by our efforts, but damn few Boomers
deserve credit for that. Let’s face it, most of us were more into R&R and drugs
(and, ostensibly, sex) than politics, let alone in seriously challenging power. A
certain Romantic legend has grown over time that’s mostly unjustified in the
case of the vast majority of Boomers. Meanwhile, the generation that receives
too little credit is the Beat Generation, some of whom led Boomers to the
degree Boomers were counter-culture or political-economic minded at all.

I’m a little hard put to see Conason’s point here, other than a very narrow one
that fails to take into account changes in the world at large. He makes good
points concerning the absurd Ryan, but then drags in the Boomer generation as
co-conspirator. Hold on, Boomers were promised—as a part of the “compact”
of which Conason writes—a share in the legacy, and what’s more, we’ve already
paid for it.

Damn straight I’m counting on Social Security; I’ve done my bit and expect that
minimal, hardly adequate, “entitlement.” Which is how it keeps being referred to
by pols and in media, when “entitlement,” though certainly accurate, is
nonetheless code for “welfare.”

Republicans, only slightly worse than Democrats, are well known to be liars and
hypocrites, while the entire system is and has long been inherently capitalist
“bait and switch” regardless of political party or generation. What’s new about
that? Conason writes of an “ideal,” which is mostly what it’s always been as
opposed to much of a reality.

Obviously matters have grown a lot more dire—in a world that’s grown more
dire for denizens of insistent empire constructed and maintained—at enormous
cost—by an older (alas, Kennedy too) generation. Boomers should have kept up
the pressure, but failed, no question. 

Certainly Ryan is cynically attempting to exploit generational difference, but
that does’t mean Boomers haven’t justice on their side in demanding what is
our due—Social Security AND Medicare, sans continuance of empire. By the end
of his piece Conason’s practically assuming Boomers will take the Ryan bait.
Maybe, if necessary, when no alternative is presented? But Obama wasn’t
elected only by kids (and what a swell job he’s done). Most Boomers don’t
constitute the real culprits—the tax-dodgers, both individual and corporate,
and many of them still of an older generation, the same—and the only—
generation really to reap rewards of being or having been American—if, that is,
measuring stick is number of creature comforts and cash stash. Ryan really
services that crew.

Every generation is confronted with problems both old and new. Gen Xers are
just going to have to deal with that actuality as are their children and their
children’s children, same as Boomers did, same as their parents did and their
parents before them. Meanwhile, we’re all—18 and over—“termites,” still
stealing far more than our just share of the planet’s resources.

I hope my generation, and any others, don’t take the Ryan bait, but I’m also
counting on our children to get moving and do something on their own for a
change. So far, I’ve not been impressed by their effort or rather lack thereof.

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By Devon Noll, April 30, 2011 at 9:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

When I was young and factories began to automate, I remember the concerns about job loss due to the introduction of automation.  We as a nation invested in training people, or retraining them, to work the new machines.  We have done the same with the introduction of the information age.  Sounds all good and wonderful, doesn’t it?  In many ways it is, but it also allowed us to do something else - it made us stop thinking for ourselves and actually expending physical effort to earn a living. 

A blogger on another site noted this morning that corporations have learned how to run on smaller crews and have no intention of changing that model.  The very thing that my grandparents and parents were concerned about in the 1950s and 1960s.  Now we have the baby boomers (of which I am one) coming along and insuring that they keep theirs, and screw the kids and grandkids.  Well, my husband is 10 years younger than I am and he will be one of the ones who would get vouchers not Medicare if Ryan has his way.  Unfortunately, he is the one who will most likely have the greater medical expenses because of a lifetime of smoking.

Paul Ryan’s budget proposal and plans are some of the most dangerous this nation has ever seen, and if the GOP wins a sweep in 2012, we will face generational disaster on a proportion unforeseen. The title of this article asks if the baby boomers are a generation of termites.  I cannot say objectively, but I do know that we are a generation that betrayed its own ethics and our own moral character in favor of the glamor of Hollywood celebrities and pretty faces on our politicians. 

I know we are a generation that overindulged our children so that we would not feel guilty at disciplining them while we ran rampant in our search for hedonistic pleasures.  Yes, many, in fact most of us, worked hard all our lives to care for our children and create a certain lifestyle for them and for ourselves - but what did we sacrifice in the process?  Our children do not understand about personal responsibility because we were all so busy trying to provide a life that only millions of dollars could provide, that we created an illusionary world for them - one where cell phones, credit cards, new clothing, and new cars are not earned, but are demanded and expected, and when not forthcoming, result in out of control behaviors that our parents would never have tolerated from us. 

If baby boomers are termites who are electing politicians who do not care about rebuilding infrastructure or educating our children, we have only ourselves to blame.  And trust me, our children will be very quick with that blame.  But our children are also the next generation of termites, and their self-indulgence needs to be brought in to line now.  Consider this:  a 28 year old hedge fund manager makes more in one day than most baby boomers make in a lifetime.  And it is this hedge fund manager who is complaining about paying taxes or being regulated while he tanked his parents’ future retirement with his computerized gambles!

So while baby boomers may be termites being led around by the likes of Paul Ryan, our children, the ones we raise, are not much better unless we start holding them to account for their actions as well.  Start teaching them ethics and critical thinking at home NOW because they are not getting it in school.  Discuss government, economics, history with them and show them that they can make a better world than the one we are leaving them if they start now to undo the damage we have done. 

We are termites, but our youngest children can shoved out of this nest and become something better if we encourage them and turn our backs on the likes of Paul Ryan and the rest of the GOP crazies.  We can die out in a generation or we can push our children and grandchildren to become better citizens than we were and to think for themselves, something we gave up for the easy life, which our parents gave us.

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By Jim Yell, April 30, 2011 at 7:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As old Ben used to say “we must all hang together or we will surely hang separately”.

It only takes a casual attention to history to realize we have been here before. what the Right Wing offers is a formula that will lead to dictators and gangsterism. Which in fact as Government Regulation has been overturned or ignored the Corporate and Banking mobsters have already begun to act like the Mafia.

Libertarianism and Capitalism without controls will all lead to the same place. That place is best represented by Banana Republic’s. This history shows.

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By doublestandards/glasshouses, April 29, 2011 at 3:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter) has some great videos of people confronting their republican congressmen in public forums on the Ryan buget plan and in particular on the bullshit about tax cuts for the rich being necessary for job creation.

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By flaco, April 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm Link to this comment

Unfortunately, they will present the so called “Gang of Six”, as a rational alternative to Ryan`s. And once again we are f….d, unless the Democrats, show some spine, which I doubt very much

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By berniem, April 29, 2011 at 11:56 am Link to this comment

The most astounding thing is how Ryan gets re-elected in a district that has suffered so severely from his “representation”! Also, the old canard that as the population ages and less people are employed to pay for the “entitlements” of those who are not, all sorts of drastic measures must be taken to “save the system”. Well, in an age where technology and automation have decreased the need for human labor while allowing corporations to continue to achieve glowing profits, is it unrealistic to demand our patriotic industries contribute the difference being that they are “people” and all? Wouldn’t this also help fulfill the wet-dream notion of “privatized” retirement schemes so enamoured by conservatives by allowing the private corporate sector to share their new-found wealth with the workers that they have so graciously forced into less sustaining occupations while eliminating the need for those not-so-trustworthy hands of Wall St. to screw things up?

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By TDoff, April 29, 2011 at 11:32 am Link to this comment

Too bad Andy Warhol is not still alive. He enjoyed capturing the latest US inanities, and it would be great fun to see Andy’s Paul Ryan portrait:

A six foot by eight foot silk-screen of a giant poly-hued a**hole adrift in an alternate universe.

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