Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, September 4, 2006
My birthday was yesterday, but birthdays don’t make me feel old. My in-laws just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary (congrats again, Al & Marian!), but significant milestones don’t make me feel old. Having to stretch out before playing catch, the extraordinary number of aches that show up in the first half mile of a run, the snap-crackle-pop of getting out of bed in the morning –- those things don’t make me feel old either.
I tell you what does, though. Hearing myself begin rants with these words: “Thirty years ago, a government official would never think of saying…” Yes, I’ve reached the point where generally accepted thoughts and behaviors of my formative youth now appear to be significantly different from those of today. And, by comparison, this makes the present world seem, well, kinda effed up. I’ll give you some examples:
Thirty years ago, a government official would never think of saying, “The United States is a Christian nation; there should be no separation between church and state.” It’s not that nobody believed it. It’s just nobody would have said it. I’m not exactly sure why. I think maybe having just come off the civil rights movement, there was a sensitivity about making sweeping exclusionary statements. It also may be that in the bicentennial year, there was a keener awareness of the actual process of how the United States was founded. What I do know is that I went to Catholic school, and I was taught there should absolutely be separation between church and state. Right up until the Pope gives the secret command, and we execute plan “Globalus Dominateus.” Wait. I don’t think I was supposed to tell you that.
Thirty years ago, a government official would never think of saying, “The Geneva Convention doesn’t apply to us; we have a legal right to torture.” Again, I’m sure we did it. The United States was in the business of propping up all sorts of nasty third-world dictators, and you gotta believe that the CIA was knocking more than a few commie heads. But what kind of idiot would try to justify it? In public? To the media? Well, of course we know what kind of idiot. Ah, Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Cheney -– if you only would have spoken up when you worked for President Ford, you would have been properly disgraced and perhaps lived out your lives in your true calling — disgruntled radio talk show hosts.
Thirty years ago, a government official would never think of saying, “Newspaper reporters should be jailed if they don’t reveal their sources,” which sparked this week’s comic. I read that a West Michigan congressman actually said this, and I was dumbfounded. An elected official in the United States saying that to the press! Wow! Back in the day, that would have been the political equivalent of chewing up a mouthful of cyanide skittles. The sanctity of journalistic sources was understood even through Watergate. And yet Peter Hoekstra said it, and as near as I can tell, nobody seemed particularly alarmed by it.
Look, I’m not saying that people were smarter back in 1976 or all conventional wisdom was necessarily spot on. (Gosh, that heroin addiction sure makes you look sexy!) What I am saying is that… is that… Um. I, ah… I walked into this room for something, now what was it? Hmmmmmm… Can’t remember. Must be getting old….