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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Hey, Dads

Happy Father's Day a l early. Here are some recipes you might want to try for the big cookout (the blackberry barbecued ribs are intriguing). And below is a Father's Day column about "rampant nowism" I wrote back in 1991. I used a shortened and modified version for Saturday's editorial page, but I think the long version holds up pretty well 19 years later.

During last year's campaign for Wayne Township trustee, at least half the candidates who visited with our editorial board said something like this: "We can't keep merely giving money to the people on poor relief. We have to change their lives, get them into jobs. Meaningful jobs - you know, not just janitorial work."
    Well, excuse me. There's something dreadfully destructive about such statements, and they hint at a broader attitude that explains a lot about what's wrong with this country.
    My father was a janitor.
    As far as I know, he was never ashamed of that. It's what he did, what he could do. He grew up poor in a poor area, and he had only a grade- school education. So he did what other men in such circumstances did - hard physical labor, for the railroad, in the coal mines, at a gravel pit. And when he could no longer do that, he became a janitor in a hospital.
    And he provided. He and my mother were determined that their children would have a better life than they did. That meant food and shelter and clothing, yes, but also commitment, love, discipline. They made us understand that, through education, we could make our lives better.
    Such attitudes are passed along. I see it in my brother, the computer programmer son of a coal miner. His two daughters are growing up with the idea that they can be any damn thing they want to be. He'll see to it.
    That notion of incremental change - of improving people's lives one generation at a time - is being lost. Too often nowadays, when people talk about "improving lives," they don't mean the next generation. They mean right now, this generation. As if, with enough care and concern from society, we can make brain surgeons out of all those janitors.
    ''Now, now, now." This rampant nowism isn't confined to the poor, of course. It has infected the whole country. It's why middle-class couples both work, even if they don't need the money: got to be able to buy more things. It's why Wall Street brokers have to have two Porsches, why consumer debt is so high, why we spend billions on ever more sophisticated medical technology, why infrastructure collapse is going to start eating us alive, why the national debt is so monstrously big. It's why, as columnist George Will has said, that as a nation we're eating our seed corn.
    People have plenty of theories for this. A historian in the current issue of American Heritage traces it to the oil embargo and double-digit inflation of the 1970s, when Americans finally stopped believing that things would always get better. Some trace the problem back even further to the last century, when the "Paradise in the next world" of Christianity was replaced with socialism's "let's work together to make a Paradise on Earth."
    I don't know where it came from. Perhaps, as one editor here half-jokingly says, it's one of the mysterious side effects of electromagnetic fields. Perhaps the information explosion has left us with too little faith in basic truths.
    But it's scary. You can't change everything for the better "now," and government programs and social-service spending plans are poor substitutes for the sense of obligation one generation ought to feel for another, the idea that we've inherited the present from our parents and have it on loan from our children. We don't believe in the future anymore. Improving our children's lives isn't a matter of this program or that plan. It will require a fundamental change in society's attitudes, and how do you do that?
    Consider this one ominous indication: 22.9 percent of the federal budget is devoted to programs for the elderly; 4.8 percent is devoted to programs to benefit children.
    There's something wrong there.


Lewis Allen
Sat, 06/19/2010 - 9:35pm

Very good 'Last Word' tonight. Interesting to see the full version here. You touch on a lot of things, but one that I can really relate to is you wanting to jump the politician after his comment about 'just janitorial work'. I've worked a lot a lot of different jobs, some menial, but none meaningless. Maybe it's my upbringing, but I cringe whenever I hear the phrase 'real job'. They're all real, and all have dignity.

Bob G.
Mon, 06/21/2010 - 7:40am

Society has become too engendered with the "easy way out"...aka public assistance.
Used to be a time when standing in the unemployment line was more annoying and demeaning than anything else.
We were fortunate enough to part of a generation that took whatever job came along until we sorted out WHAT we wanted as a career...to pay our ways through school...to get a car...whatever.

Sadly today, its more about being entertained than employed in anything meaningful.

Kudos to your observations, Leo.
Well said.

Andrew J.
Mon, 06/21/2010 - 8:52am

Do you realize the upcoming generation is working and educating itself harder, and more expensively (hence having to pay their way through school not like our fathers or their fathers did) than ever before? Every generation believes the one following them has it easy. Used to be high school education was enough, and then college, and now the numbers of grad degrees/post four-year college education is the new reality. My daughter went to college, worked a year, then went to law school for three years, and after three years of practice, I suspect, has a good chunk of $90,000 still to pay back.
And you know what? That up and coming generation, when it gets to be our age, will ramble on about how the next batch of people has it easy.