They call us the Silent Generation. We are the nearly 50 million Americans born between 1925 and 1945 — sandwiched between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boom Generation. No wonder we're silent, with that kind of competition.
We're getting up there in age now. Most of us are retired — or wish we could be, if our retirement investments hadn't gone sour in the Great Recession. We have worked all of our lives, having come of age from the Great Depression years through the World War II years. We know hardship, sacrifice, and loss. Some of our uncles and older brothers didn't come home from the war.
Our parents' role models were Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Jim and Margaret Anderson of Father Knows Best, and Ward and June Cleaver of Leave It to Beaver. Our lives were simple and generally happy, mostly free of the angst of adolescence so prevalent today. We weren't enticed to try illegal drugs; that evil influence hadn't been invented yet. Nor had the cult of teenage-hood; we pretty much toed the line on curfews, dress codes and manners.
And we trusted and respected our elected leaders. When we came of age we took voting seriously, for we were electing people to represent us at City Hall, the Courthouse, and in Congress. We expected those leaders to represent our interests, and if they didn't, we got rid of them at the next election. We voted for the man — and in those days they were all men — not the Party. Yes, we were Democrats or Republicans, but we didn't wear those labels on our shoulders like folks do now. We certainly didn't judge our neighbors' character based on who they supported in the last election. And we seldom advertised our preferences with bumper stickers, either.
That all changed as we began launching our careers. Many of us marked its beginning from the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. Some pundits referred to that tragedy as the loss of our national innocence — as if a nation that had lost over 400,000 of its finest young men and women in World War II and was daily confronted by the Cold War could claim innocence. Still, the evidence of political bigotry revealed by the awful crime in Dallas shocked many of my generation. The press reported that some people actually cheered at the news of the president's death. Most of us cried.
We would never again regard government as we had before this watershed event. While our younger siblings marched off to Vietnam or took to the streets to protest that war, we watched in silence, disturbed at the assault on our bedrock institutions yet admiring their courage at challenging the military-industrial complex that had taken over our government. When the Watergate scandal exposed the level of corruption centered in the Oval Office, we fumed in silent outrage at the criminal behavior of our highest elected leaders.
And in the 1990s, when a stained blue dress became a symbol of an even more callous sullying of the Oval Office, we cringed in silent shame at the amorality of our president.
But as we watch our elected leaders take our country into financial ruin in 2011, we may be finding our voices. Watching Congress turn the national debt crisis into a political football has galvanized our shock, anger and shame. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, the Silent Generation has grown increasingly uneasy, even angry, at the direction of the country. And for good reason. Watching Congress play chicken with the national debt ceiling this summer instead of addressing the underlying cause of the debt crisis was the final straw.
The Pew report didn't say it in these words, but I will: We are mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore. We want Congress to get serious about solving the debt crisis before it destroys us. And it's not as difficult as you might think. Even I, a math-challenged writer, was able to understand it after watching a documentary movie entitled I.O.U.S.A.: Solutions. This award-winning film produced by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation combines animated graphics, bipartisan discussion and voice-over explanations to lay out the nation's fiscal crisis in terms that every American of average intelligence can understand.
This is not your typical PowerPoint show of pie charts, bar graphs and bullet-point lists. Those tools are all in there, but they move — they rise and fall, expand and contract, to illustrate how the national debt was created and what it means to the future of the nation. It's fascinating stuff; not a single eye-glazing minute. When it was over I sat stunned, thinking: It's so simple, so logical. Why can't Congress just do this and stop the petty bickering that resolves nothing?
See for yourself at a free showing of the movie and follow-up debate at St. Petersburg College's Seminole campus from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 7. The forum, titled Solving the National Debt Crisis: It's Not Rocket Science, is sponsored by SPC's Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions and co-sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, Bright House Networks and WUSF Public Media.
Coming just two weeks after the "super committee" of Congress is supposed to have delivered its $1.5 trillion deficit reduction recommendations, this program will be a conduit for the latest insights from Washington on the debt crisis. Those insights will be delivered by a St. Petersburg High alum, Dr. Joshua Gordon, policy director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan think tank that focuses on fiscal policy. Gordon, who grew up in Seminole, directs the coalition's research on the federal budget, health care policy and tax policy.
I suspect it's not just members of the Silent Generation who are angry at the shocking state of our nation's financial affairs. The Occupy Wall Street movement certainly reflects ire at Congress' capitulation to corporate interests that caused our economy to crash in 2008. All of the generations below mine — Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, the Millennials — have a stake in this debate. I want you all to get as mad as I am.
David Klement, a retired journalist, is executive director of the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College. The Dec. 7 forum will be from 6-8 p.m. at SPC's Seminole Campus, 9200 113th St. N. To register, email [email protected]