The early 1990s were a time of change. The Soviet Union collapsed, leaving the United States as the only super power, at least in the west. China was preparing to make its move, but had not done so yet. In 1993, after 12 years of Republican rule, the Democrats regained the White House. Since 1945, the American president was one who, with the exception of Lyndon Johnson, had worn his country’s uniform. Of those 8 men, only Jimmy Carter had not served in time of war.
Now, the nation elected its first “baby boomer” president, one from the Vietnam War generation, and it chose a man who not only had not worn the uniform, but who had protested the war on foreign soil giving aid and comfort to the people who were assiduously attempting to kill American service members (including your author). During the first week of the Clinton presidency, one of his staffers told Lieutenant General Barry McCaffrey, “Around here, we don’t speak to people who wear that uniform!” (General McCaffrey’s sin had been to say “Good morning, ma’am.” To his credit, Clinton personally apologized to the General.)
This trend continued with the election of George W. Bush in 2000 and Barack Obama in 2008. Bush got a raw deal, I think, because he did fly for the Air National Guard during the Vietnam era. At that time, the Guard and Reserve got the tired aircraft that the regular establishment did not want—in Bush’s case, the F-102. He put his tail on the line every time he strapped into a cockpit. More than you can say for the other two. But I digress.
Obama was the first president to come from the post-Vietnam generation.
The real fights of 1993-2012 were over the proper role of the federal government. For the Democrats, it was taxing the “rich” in order to give more public benefits to the “poor.” This was, in essence, a fight over “bread and circuses” for the electorate, buying votes. For the Republicans, it was about reducing taxes and requiring personal responsibility. Regulation was anathema.
There was a see-saw effect: Clinton proposed a massive federal take-over of medical care, but he also agreed to proposals to put limitations on public welfare—mainly through requirements that able-bodied recipients also seek work. Federal income tax rates were increased for the “rich.” Under President Bush, tax rates were consolidated and generally lowered. Certain taxes were phased out, including the capital gains tax and the inheritance tax. Government regulation was loosened. Although unsuccessful to date, the Obama administration has made doing away with the “Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans” one of its most sought-after goals. The Obama administration also finally was able to pass a highly controversial health care reform law, that does nothing to reform or improve health care, but does purport to pass the increased costs along “to those who can most easily afford them.”
Greed was the driving vision. Immigrants no longer came here to populate empty land and to become Americans. They came to send billions of untaxed dollars back to their home countries, and to demand education of their children and provision of health care to their families at the expense of tax paying citizens. One activist for illegal aliens who was involved in a suit to force California to provide schooling for illegals told NPR, “We’re not asking to be treated differently. We just want our fair share.” She conveniently forgot that their “fair share” was back in their home countries.
At the same time, greedy folks who knew better manipulated the stock market, using other people’s money as their own, to grow immensely wealthy while destroying the financial underpinnings of the Nation. And it wasn’t just conservatives—John Corzine, former Democrat Governor and Senator from New Jersey, was involved in the failure of MF Global, Inc., in which millions of dollars of customer funds were diverted to cover losses of firm funds.
One could say that at the highest and lowest parts of American society, the vision was complementary. Take money from someone else and use it to fund a life style that would be otherwise impossible to obtain. It soon devolved into a tense fight to take care of oneself and “pull up the gang plank, mate. I’m aboard.”
Gone were the heady days of shared goals and outward vision. The “me generation” infected the entire psyche of the Nation.