One day in 1984, Kurt Vonnegut called.
I was ditching my law school classes to work on the presidential campaign of Walter Mondale, the Democratic candidate against Ronald Reagan, when one of those formerly-ubiquitous pink telephone messages was delivered to me saying that Vonnegut had called, asking to speak to one of Mondale’s speechwriters.
All sorts of people called to talk to the speechwriters with all sorts of whacky suggestions; this certainly had to be the most interesting. I stared at the 212 phone number on the pink slip, picked up a phone, and dialed.
A voice, so gravelly and deep that it seemed to lie at the outer edge of the human auditory range, rasped, “Hello.” I introduced myself. There was a short pause, as if Vonnegut were fixing his gaze on me from the other end of the line, then he spoke.
“It’s the grandparents stealing from the grandchildren.”
I waited for elaboration. After a long pause, however, he simply repeated, “It’s the grandparents stealing from the grandchildren. Got it?”
I assured him I did, and he hung up.
Of course, I knew immediately what he meant. America had become a great nation because it had always kept its eyes on the future. That changed with the election of Ronald Reagan—when the Baby Boom generation, enthusiastic Reagan backers, became the largest cohort in the electorate and began to rise in the political and economic worlds. The Boomers’ sense of entitlement was beginning to manifest itself in the long battle over what are known as “entitlements”—especially the original and largest, Social Security and Medicare—and what they say about our attitudes toward future generations.