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When I Was a Boy, America Was a Better Place
By Dennis Prager

The day the O.J. Simpson verdict was announced, I said to my then-teenage son, "David, please forgive me. I am handing over to you a worse America than my father handed over to me."

Unfortunately, I still feel this way.

With the important exception of racial discrimination -- which was already dying a natural death when I was young -- it is difficult to come up with an important area in which America is significantly better than when I was a boy. But I can think of many in which its quality of life has deteriorated.

When I was a boy, America was a freer society than it is today. If Americans had been told the extent and number of laws that would govern their speech and behavior within one generation, they would have been certain that they were being told about some dictatorship, not the Land of the Free. Today, people at work, to cite but one example, are far less free to speak naturally. Every word, gesture and look, even one's illustrated calendar, is now monitored lest a fellow employee feel offended and bring charges of sexual harassment or creating a "hostile work environment" or being racially, religiously or ethnically insensitive, or insensitive to another's sexual orientation.

Meanwhile, all employers in California are now prohibited by law from firing a man who has decided to cross-dress at work. And needless to say, no fellow worker can say to that man, "Hey, Jack, why not wear the dress at home and men's clothes to work?" An employer interviewing a prospective employee is not free to ask the most natural human questions: Are you married? Do you have a child? How old are you? Soon "How are you?" will be banned lest one discriminate on the basis of health.

When I was boy, what people did at home was not their employer's business. Today, companies and city governments refuse to hire, and may fire, workers no matter how competent or healthy, who smoke in their homes. Sarasota, Fla., the latest city to invade people's private lives, would not hire Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy if they applied for a job.

When I was a 7-year-old boy, I flew alone from New York to my aunt and uncle in Miami and did the same thing coming back to New York. I boarded the plane on my own and got off the plane on my own. No papers for my parents to fill out. No extra fee to pay the airline. I was responsible for myself. Had I run away or been kidnapped, no one would have sued the airline. Today, fear of lawsuits is a dominant fact of American life.

When I was a boy, I ran after girls during recess, played dodgeball, climbed monkey bars and sat on seesaws. Today, more and more schools have no recess; have canceled dodgeball lest someone feel bad about being removed from the game; and call the police in to interrogate, even sometimes arrest, elementary school boys who playfully touch a girl. And monkey bars and seesaws are largely gone, for fear of lawsuits should a child be injured.

When I was boy, I was surrounded by adult men. Today, most American boys (and girls, of course) come into contact with no adult man all day every school day. Their teachers and school principals are all likely to be women. And if, as is often the case, there is no father at home (not solely because of divorce but because "family" courts have allowed many divorced mothers to remove fathers from their children's lives), boys almost never come into contact with the most important group of people in a boy's life -- adult men. The contemporary absence of men in boys' lives is not only unprecedented in American history; it is probably unprecedented in recorded history.

When I was a boy, we had in our lives adults who took pride in being adults. To distinguish them from our peers, we called these adults "Mr.," "Mrs." and "Miss," or by their titles, "Doctor," "Pastor," "Rabbi," "Father." It was good for us, and we liked it. Having adults proud of their adulthood, and not acting like they were still kids, gave us security (as well as something to look forward to in growing up). Today, kids are surrounded by peers twice, three, four times their age.

When I was a boy, the purpose of American history textbooks was to teach American history. Today, the purpose of most American history texts is to make minorities and females feel good about themselves. As a result, American kids today are deprived of the opportunity to feel good about being American (not to mention deprived of historical truth). They are encouraged to feel pride about all identities -- African-American, Hispanic, Asian, female, gay -- other than American.

When I was a teenage boy, getting to kiss a girl, let alone to touch her thigh or her breast (even over her clothes) was the thrill of a lifetime. Most of us could only dream of a day later on in life when oral sex would take place (a term most of us had never heard of). But of course, we were not raised by educators or parents who believed that "teenagers will have sex no matter what." Most of us rarely if ever saw a naked female in photos (the "dirty pictures" we got a chance to look at never showed "everything"), let alone in movies or in real life. We were, in short, allowed to be relatively innocent. And even without sex education and condom placement classes, few of us ever got a girl pregnant.

When I was a boy, "I Love Lucy" showed two separate beds in Lucy and Ricky's bedroom -- and they were a married couple. Today, MTV and most TV saturate viewers' lives with sexual imagery and sexual talk, virtually all of which is loveless and, of course, non-marital.

When I was boy, people dressed up to go to baseball games, visit the doctor and travel on airplanes. Today, people don't dress up even for church.

When I was a boy, Time and Newsweek were well written and relied little on pictures and illustrations. Today, those magazines often look like adult comic books by comparison. They are filled with large illustrations and photos, and they dumb down the news with features like "Winners and Losers" and "Who's Up and Who's Down." And when I was a boy, it would have been inconceivable for Time to substitute anything, let alone a tree, for the flag planted by the marines on Iwo Jima.

One might argue that these are the same laments that every previous older generation has expressed -- "Ah, when I was young" But in America, that has not been the case. In America, the older generations tended to say the opposite -- "When I was a kid, things were worse."

Can we return to the America of my youth? No. Can we return to the best values of that time? Yes. But not if both houses of Congress, the presidency and the Supreme Court move the country even further leftward. If that happens, many of the above noted changes will simply be accelerated: More laws restricting "offensive" speech will be enacted; litigation will increase and trial lawyers will gain more power; the American military will be less valued; trees will gradually replace the flag as our most venerated symbol; schools will teach even less as they concentrate even more on diversity, sexuality and the environment; teenage sex will be increasingly accepted; American identity will continue to be replaced by ethnic, racial, gender or "world citizen" identity; and the power of the state will expand further as the power of the individual inevitably contracts. It's hard to believe most Americans really want that.


( 41 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 12th, 2008 04:08 am (UTC)
haha. nice to know I'm not considered an American.

the guy contradicts himself in every paragraph. First, he's upset that people don't have "freedom" at work. Then in the very next paragraph he's trying to put limits on somebody's freedom to dress how they want. all he wants is freedom to be a bigot.

I can't believe I wasted 5 minutes reading this.

Jun. 12th, 2008 04:22 am (UTC)
you can't deny that the general "gist" of the article is true, aside from the employer contradiction that he seems to make.

life was better in the 50s. we claim to be a "freer" and "more tolerant" society today...yet things just seem to be so much worse off.
Jun. 12th, 2008 05:29 am (UTC)
American kids aren't dying of polio now, I'd call that an improvement.

We won the Cold War, I'd call that an improvement.

We've got safer cars, less leaded paint, fewer lynchings, cleaner air and water, and better care for wounded soldiers. We've got higher rates of high school and college graduation.

I think trying to go back would be counterproductive.

(no subject) - ellie_kay - Jun. 12th, 2008 02:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tevarin - Jun. 12th, 2008 06:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Jun. 12th, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)
Life was more racist in the 50's, if that's what you mean by better.
(no subject) - ellie_kay - Jun. 12th, 2008 05:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 12th, 2008 04:59 am (UTC)
I think subjectivity has it right. This guy doesn't want anything as American as freedom, he wants to impose his own concept of proper behavior on everyone whether they like it or not. He's as bad as the politically correct dimwits he condemns.

Jun. 12th, 2008 01:15 pm (UTC)
Yes, I think you nailed it about this ridiculousness.

And I just have a problem with the idea of simplistic answers, anyway. Left, right, liberal, conservative...I don't think any faction is deliberately out to "Ruin America", they are all reacting to the problems they deem important, and they all sometimes carry their 'truths' to the extreme. As the daughter of a radical lesbian feminist, I was raised to blame "The Patriarchy" for pretty much everything, but that is as silly as blaming "The Left" for everything.

*shakes head*

Jun. 12th, 2008 05:39 pm (UTC)
So what do you specifically disagree with on this article? I am curious. Please don't mention discrimination or lack of civil rights for certain people, because the author specifically mentions: "With the important exception of racial discrimination..."

Also, don't say you're "not American" according to him, because nowhere in this article does he state that.

Do you disagree that there are laws to govern every aspect of our life, including the personal aspects? Do you disagree that the majority of the country is less safe nowadays? Do you disagree with teenage promiscuity running rampant? Do you disagree the dumbing down of pretty much EVERYTHING and the fear of "offending" at every turn???
Jun. 12th, 2008 06:17 pm (UTC)
There is so much good in this world, but everyone, like this man, is focused on how bad it is. Sure we have a lot of problems, but they're just different problems. They're not worse. You might say "well we have AIDs!" Yeah, but did you ever stop and think that you don't have to fear dying giving birth? Or that, due to medical advances, people live longer now? Do you really believe people were more free back then?

This guy is essentially complaining about how bad it is now, but he offers no solutions on how to improve it. His "insights" are also extremely closed-minded. Here's an example: all employers in California are now prohibited by law from firing a man who has decided to cross-dress at work. And needless to say, no fellow worker can say to that man, "Hey, Jack, why not wear the dress at home and men's clothes to work?"
He only sees it from one side. What about the side of the man who wants to cross-dress. Did he ever stop and think of how it makes the cross-dresser feel? The author may be "free" but the cross-dresser isn't if someone is forcing him to dress a certain way.
(no subject) - thisgirliknow - Jun. 12th, 2008 10:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 12th, 2008 06:24 pm (UTC)
I agree that fear of offending people is getting ridiculous, and dumb lawsuits are way too common, and that history classes should talk about what is great about America as well as what is lousy.

But we're not less safe nowadays. We live longer than we did back in the 50's.


Teen pregnancy rates are lower than they were in the 50's


We might even be happier, suicide rates are down.


(no subject) - ellie_kay - Jun. 12th, 2008 06:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tevarin - Jun. 13th, 2008 07:42 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 12th, 2008 11:30 pm (UTC)
Where I got the "not American" part was from this sentence:

"They are encouraged to feel pride about all identities -- African-American, Hispanic, Asian, female, gay -- other than American."

He is saying that African-American, Hispanic, Asian, female, and gay identities are not American identities. Well, yes they are, they are just as American as his identity. We may be "the other" to him, but that doesn't make us unAmerican. He has a very, very narrow view of what "American" means.
Jun. 12th, 2008 09:18 pm (UTC)
Many of you missed the point
Instead of trying to pick apart a time in our country most, if not all of you can only ask your parents about, try to see what is really being said here. Yes, there were some things about the 50's and 60's (periods when I was in school), that needed changing and, as we grew, we did our best to change them. The racism was worse in many parts of the country than it is today. But, like everything, in some areas, it was less so. While my part of the city had no people of color when I was a teenager, my graduating class was over 40% Jewish. We all got along great! My dad drove a bakery truck doing home delivery (much like a milkman) in Detroit in the 50's and 60's. His customers were predominantly Black or Jewish, and ranged from lower middle class to big name entertainers and athletes such as The Four Tops, Marvin Gay, Willie Horton (the baseball player, not the criminal). I was in Jr. high school the day JFK was assassinated. I was in high school at a huge indoor track meet the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and Bobby Kennedy was assassinated just days before my HS graduation (40 yrs. ago, today, to be exact). I have lived all of the changes we have seen in our lives. I have to agree with the author that our country seems to have lost it's way. As an example aside from the many the author has pointed out, just look at what is going on in the "government run" housing in Massachusetts. The heat is on "by law" until Jun 15th. The Air Conditioning cannot be turned on until June 15th. It is over 90 degrees up there today, and has been all week. What is wrong with this picture? The answer to all of this is not more government intrusion into our lives, it is less. It was not the government who cured polio, many forms of Cancer, and numerous other diseases. It was researchers in private companies. Yes, they earn a profit. No, they are not evil. We fail to realize, as individual citizens that WE are the corporations. If you have a 401K or a retirement fund. You are part of a corporation. You are the investors. If our government taxes corporations profits, WE suffer! We receive smaller dividends, our prices go up, and our checkbooks get smaller! A corporation is a piece of paper. The CEO and the Board of Directors are all paid employees of said piece of paper. The people we pay to manage our mutual funds, stock portfolios, retirement funds are all part of this just as we are.

It would be well for every single one of us to imprint on our brains that "The Government is not, has never been, and by design never will be, a for profit entity producing it's own income! Therefore, anything 'the Government' gives you it MUST TAKE FROM YOU first! And, it never gives back as much as it takes!"

We have come along way in 40 years, but, in some ways, I truly believe it is the WRONG way. Children and young adults no longer show respect for each other or adults or "authority figures". The list goes on from there. In many ways, life on an individual basis was much better in the 50's and 60's. If you weren't there, ask your parents. It is the only way you can find out now.
Jun. 12th, 2008 10:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Many of you missed the point
Overall, I think children and their parents have much better relationships. Maybe this is a direct effect of the more "peer-to-peer" -- Not that people shouldn't have respect for their elders, particularly their parents.. But things change. People change. And it's the new norm, whether people like it or not.
Jun. 13th, 2008 08:09 am (UTC)
Re: Many of you missed the point
The Salk vaccine was developed by university research funded by the March of Dimes nonprofit.

According to wikipedia:

"While being interviewed by Edward R. Murrow on See It Now in 1955, Salk was asked: "Who owns the patent on this vaccine?" Surprised by the question's assumption of the requirement of a profit motive for his creation, he responded: "There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?"


The Sabin vaccine for polio was later developed by a private company.


As an example of the government giving back more than it takes, I'd cite the US Army.

Cost to US citizens: 600,000+ dead soldiers in the 20th century. Billions and billions of dollars.

Benefit to US citizens: A (mostly) free world.

I'd agree that the government can't give out more dollars than it takes in through taxes. But it can give benefits that are well worth the money we put in.
Jun. 13th, 2008 09:27 am (UTC)
Re: Many of you missed the point
If our government taxes corporations profits, WE suffer! We receive...The people we pay to manage our mutual funds...

Who is the 'we' here?

A corporation exists for the sole reason that the owner(s) of that corporation cannot be sued out of existence. It is its own entity. If the corporation is considered to be a separate person, then I believe it should also be taxed as one. Imo, it's the price to pay for that protection.

I can't speak about how it was in the 50's or 60's because I wasn't alive then, but let me tell you about my mother:
My mother was born in 1960. Her experiences as a child were not better. She grew up being the target of racism and abuse. She knows Spanish, but she chose not to teach her children because Mexicans were considered to be stupid. She didn't want her children to be a target of that racism like she was. Later, she regretted her decisions because opinions have changed. While there is still much racism out there, knowing Spanish won't pigeonhole you like it once did. Now it's an asset. That's an example of how life on an individual basis was not much better back then.

I think, and I say this carefully, people don't understand that there are many views on life and life in America. It's in their nature to be one-sided. If this is how they experienced it, then that's how everyone did. I also think it's the whole grass is greener on the other side complex. People are unhappy and they think changing their environment will make them happy, but what they don't realize is that their unhappiness comes from within and no outside force can change that. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's how people who live in the past, like this author, come across to me -- as unhappy people who feel that outside forces can make them happy.

I agree that children and young adults don't show the same respect for each other and authority figures as they once did, but why do you think that is the case? How can one change that? If I grew up being taught a certain way, how am I supposed to change if no one guides me? And what if I don't want to change? Should I because someone said so?
( 41 comments — Leave a comment )


Much like pineapples, I am hardcore.

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