Recently, House Minority Leader John Boehner gave an interview to The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in which he - surprise! - criticized Congressional Democrats and the President.
It was a wide-ranging interview covering subjects like the financial reform bill, which Boehner compared to "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon." (I'm sure people adversely affected by the financial meltdown will be glad to know that the crisis was only an "ant" as far as the Republican leadership is concerned.)
As usual, Boehner trotted out one of the catchphrases of the American right: a professed yearning for, as he put it, "the America he grew up in," which he claims is being "snuffed out" by those awful Democrats.
Well, according to Brother John's Wikipedia page, he was born in 1949. So the "America he grew up in" saw the Red Scares, the polio epidemics, the Korean War, McCarthyism, the Berlin Wall and the hydrogen bomb. It also was the era in which the Vietnam War began, although no one really paid much attention at the time. Oh, and let's not forget the overarching and ever-present dread of a nuclear war that would wipe out civilization (fallout shelters, anyone?)
It should also be noted that America wasn't exactly congenial if you were black, brown, gay or disabled, and was pretty doggone restrictive if you were female. If you were an abused child, your plight was more likely than not to be ignored or hushed up.
I joined up with America in 1962. The America I grew up in saw the aforementioned Vietnam War in full bloody flower, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy and Malcolm X, race riots, anti-war riots, the 1968 Chicago "police riot," hippies, Yippies, an exploding drug culture, Nixon, Watergate, Charles Manson, an OPEC embargo which led to a gas crisis, an economic crisis, a hostage crisis, "malaise," a major city going broke, Chrysler going broke (and having to be bailed out), polyester leisure suits, disco, and a limited selection of weak, lousy beer that we only drank because we didn't know that there was anything better. Oh, and there was still that fear that we were going to start swapping nukes with the Russians and wipe out all life on the planet.
Consider this, though: The America Brother John and I grew up in also gave us the vaccine that eradicated polio, the GI Bill, the Marshall Plan, the Interstate highway system, Elvis, Chuck Berry, the Civil Rights Act, the Clean Air Act, the Ford Mustang, the Fender Stratocaster, moon landings, communications satellites, weather satellites, the transistor, the microchip, the MRI ... the list of advancements, societal and scientific, goes on and on.
And now? There are still environmental dangers like the Gulf oil spill, but on average, the country's air and water are measurably cleaner than they used to be. We are able, if we have the will, to give everyone in the country instant access to more information than our ancestors ever dreamed of.
We still have our differences with the Russians, but we don't live in fear that we're going to blow each other off the face of the Earth. We still fear attack, but it's not a world-ending one. Things are not perfect, but they're certainly better, for children, women, minorities, gays and the disabled. And the beer selection is excellent.
The America I grew up in is like the one John Boehner grew up in, the one my children grew up in, and the one that every American child born while you read this column is going to grow up in. It's a place of fear, violence, chaos and injustice. It's a place of hope, kindness, creativity and progress. It's always, as Dickens put it, the best of times and the worst of times.
What America is always doing, though, is moving forward. That progress may be slow, or it moves in fits and starts. That can be frustrating. But there's no going back, Mr. Boehner. The America we grew up in is gone, and it's not coming back. A new one is being made every day on its foundations, just like every day since the country was founded. You can slow that down, but you can't stop it.