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BILL MOYERS: Another grandson graduated from high school this past weekend, and we were there for the festivities. From the hamburgers, hot dogs, and bratwurst, through the memories recollected with laughter and tears on the front porch long after the ceremonies ended.

I never tire of these rituals. Like the pickle relish and mustard on the bratwurst, like life itself, they are bittersweet. Nostalgia and anticipation in equal portions. Where did that little kid go? Yesterday he was squealing in the sand box, chasing the cat, soaring on the old tire swing, hanging from the elm out front, stubbing his toe, smacking his lips over the last morsel of watermelon, teasing grandma from atop the backyard slide, and begging for one more round of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Now, in blazer, tie, and white pants, trying to stifle a big grin, he marches past us with his classmates, so tall he has to duck and swipe away a vine dangling from the makeshift trellis that separates the past from the future.

The searing Minnesota sun threatened to cook us, until the headwinds of a gathering summer storm cut the heat. No one seemed in a hurry for the afternoon to end. But it was a relief when the commencement speaker, eloquent defender of the liberal arts, proved to be both wise and mercifully brief. The crowd laughed when he asked: “Have you ever found yourself saying, ‘That speech would probably have been perfect if it had been longer?’”

The school chorus, as if to tell us to relax, they know the score, belted out John Mayer’s “No Such Thing”:

"I want to run through the halls of my high school I want to scream at the Top of my lungs I just found out there’s no such thing as the real world Just a lie you’ve got to rise above."

And that’s when it hit me: how we’ve let these kids down. The mess we’ve handed them. The huge debts. An economy producing too few jobs and vast inequality. A rich man’s country with a flailing middle class. The tenuous prosperity of everyday people wiped out by Wall Street insiders and Washington hucksters, still up to their old tricks. And far below the water line, like those passengers on the Titanic, the poor, traveling as always at the cheapest rate, trapped in steerage.

How did we become a country of such ugly, stupid politics? One party, doddering and feckless; the other, radical, and reckless, and downright mean, driven by unblinking ideologues with kamikaze souls.

How did we become the United States of Denial? On the flight out, I read the report in a recent issue of the journal “Nature” by a team of 22 scientists, warning that in the lifetime of these high school graduates, Earth could reach a tipping point. As we put more and more pressure on our life support system, our crops, fisheries, and clean water, the diversity of species that enable us to be here, the planet could be plunged into uncharted territory from which there’s no return.

These scientists are parents and grandparents, too, and they reject despair. The report’s lead author told interviewers: “My bottom line is that I want the world in 50 to 100 years to be at least as good as it is now for my children and their children.” It’s not too late to change course, he says. “We are a clever species. We have the solutions to these … problems in our grasp.”

But, for the denial. I snap out of my reverie. I hear our grandson’s name being called, see him handed his diploma, watch the whole class rise, and think: “They just might do it. Just might pull us back from the edge. Get us on the right track again.”

The musicians strike up the recessional, and here they come, to applause and cheers and tears, once more through the trellis and on beyond.

At our website, BillMoyers.com, you’ll see that with a little help from our friends at Mother Jones we’ve created a Money & Politics spotlight page. You’ll find reporting, tools and links, all aimed at pulling dark money out of the shadows.

That’s all at BillMoyers.com. See you there and see you here, next time.

Bill Moyers Essay: Letting Down the Next Generation

June 15, 2012

As his grandson graduates from high school, Bill reflects on what we’re leaving the next generation of Americans: a country mired in debt and inequality, and controlled in large part by Wall Street insiders and Washington hucksters. Yet, Bill says, “I hear our grandson’s name being called, see him handed his diploma, watch the whole class rise, and think: “They just might pull us back from the edge.”

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  • Lippy

    Both poetic and pointed, Bill Moyers’ essay makes me cry for the state of our country and still, somehow, hope for a future that may have already been doomed.

  • Fionnarosebud

     I wish every single person in America could hear this, and be as moved as I was. If so, we might have a chance to save our world before it really is too late for our species.

  • Sheila572

    I felt every word you said was a description of my grandchildren when they graduated from High School. I paused and thought about it with your words. The U.S needs to rid the country of special interest groups and those that are “in their employ!”. The deficit would come into the black if we got rid of the “perks” that our inefficient lawmakers are getting..They should be paying into S.S and have to wait for a COLA for 3 years and they should be enrolled in Medicare when of age.There goes their second and third homes. I am so ashamed of our entire political system now. We, as a nation, need to vote members of both  parties out of office if they are not eliciting change for the state of our nation and it’s people. My hope for change is in our youth. I may not live to see it but we can start in our homes to work and strive for change and teach our kids to do the same. I hope it’s not too late!

  • Ziziphus Jujube

    For some reason all this talk about dark money in politics  reminds me of a myriad of ideas about how we’ve lost our way, some of us more than others. One idea is something Jimmy Hendricks said, “When the power of love overcomes love of power the world will know peace.” Something to look forward to. Something that as a former teacher, I think that our newest generation will have a big part in helping us achieve.
    Another comes from the Code of Hammurabi, “The first Duty of Government is to Protect the Powerless Against the Powerful.” As a member of an incoming county Grand Jury in California, I’m going to put a bumper sticker of this on my car and keep a little  banner of it at my desk in the Grand Jury room. 
    A third comes from President Eisenhower, “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.” I think that the “kicking butt and taking names” part of our charge as Grand Jury members is a reflection of this.   
    Another is something Brooks Atkinson said, “Poverty is not wholly a personal failure. It also represents the failure of an economic system. And the remedy is not wholly one of clarity, but of political and economic action. Poverty is a reflection also on those who are not poor.” Whenever I see people suffering in poverty, I’m going to remind myself that their plight is also a reflection on me.   
    Lastly, what Frank Herbert said comes to mind, “The greatest and most important problems of the world cannot be solved. They can only be outgrown.” This reminds me that some of the people who seem to have most lost their way may in the end  just be left behind.  

  • Anonymous

    WE guzzle gas and hate our suppliers. The most able can take a bus/rail easiest, but its the least able that  often have to take that ride.   WE want 500k homes (mini mansions) and on 100k income.  WE want organics from single owner markets one at the top mostly profits,  but  WE SAY we support union stores and also don’t like Corps where one or two mostly profits.. Oh sad our jobs went to China and elsewhere.  Still, WE  want insta gratifications , don’t want to save and buy Made in USA  to save USA!   WE went to a war that had nothing to do with 911  then later went  to take care of 911  and had NO CLUE what we were getting into.  Potheads against Tobacco – hello.   All the lack of accessible and affordable housing and more and the disability community is in a big tizzy over hotels within accessible pools ?HUH?!  What people on poverty level ssi can vacation?  70% or more of the disability community is out of work , though most don’t want to be.  Put off the damn issue  till the people are housed and working!  Housing is still the biggest reason salaries must be so high and  eating  too many greedy corp profits , but all the foreclosures mean  now that the rentals are a suppliers market.  WE sit silent as more  not worker affordable lux apts are being built? OUR Corporations don’t need the cost of educated USA workers,   the supply will be from elsewhere soon. We can be their worker bees… How dare FLOTUS Michelle ask our kids to eat more healthy, ask the schools to remove junk. Since WE plan to cut off access to most health care soon as GOP has full control,  who cares?  The list goes on …. WE are a people of contradictions Left to Right.   

  • Anonymous

    Obama attempted to get fair elections going Jan 201o. Every one left and right was busy whining about something or the other not instantly fixed.

  • Shumphreys

    I was struck by the comment reported of Moyer’s friends that they are so disgusted they are giving up. I wonder if they ever really got involved? Academics (my father was one) have faith that reason will carry the day and have totally lost touch with the reality of the “common” people. Those that can, insulate themselves from the “rabble” in their gated communities and McMansions and then throw their hands up in disgust at how terrible the world is. People don’t know their next door neighbors. It is easier to throw money at problems than it is to get your hands dirty actually working to solve problems in your own community. Volunteer groups around the nation could do more IF they had more volunteers. Hillary Clinton said it takes a neighborhood to raise a child, well it takes the folks in the neighborhood to keep that neighborhood strong and healthy. Some of our brightest and wealthiest spend their time and effort tackling the “BIG” issues of the day and ignore the little issues all around them. Perhaps if they got involved in their own communities, just a little of their time, the world wouldn’t be in such a mess.

  • Penelope Hermes

    Give us the exact issue if the journal NATURE

  • Debbeling1

    I just saw this segment. So fitting. Well done.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shoobopdoowop Shoobop Doowop

     I always watched Bill Moyers’
    Journal on PBS! Except for his perfunctory plug for the “AGW” crowd,
    he’s largely right in what he said here. American society (and politics)
    has morphed into a holding pen for “denialists” of about every stripe.
    Facts, truth, science, empirical evidence, etc. have all become
    “politically incorrect”. All most Americans want is some stuff to
    believe. They don’t give a damn if it’s true or factual, or even makes sense. They just want some bag of crap to identify with, that’s all.
    Like the YECs and their impossibly silly “Noah’s flood” b.s., for
    instance.

  • Sinabhfuil

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity – WB Yeats

  • http://www.billmoyers.com Theresa Riley
  • Personincharge43

    My niece graduated from George Washington University in May.  As we sat on the National Mall on that Sunday morning looking at the Washington Monument surrounded by the Smithsonian,  we heard quite a humorous commencement address by Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News.  The most important thing he had to say came at the end.  He lamented that Washington is broken.  Center, moderate and COMPROMISE have become dirty words in the political realm.  He challenged those young, bright, ambitious faces looking back at him to get INVOLVED and CHANGE the  poisonous atmosphere that is engulfing our national government.  On that, I totally agree with him.  My son’s generation is the hope of this country today, tomorrow and for years to come.  Time for all the old baggage to move over or get out. 

  • Dayinthepark

    There is a lot of chatter about corruption now, and it’s all around us, certainly, but let’s say all the sudden, the corruption melted away and suddenly genuinely honest politicians entered congress to do exactly what we want.  What would we ask them to do?  The problem I see at this point, is disagreement on what the more honest guys might do.  My firm belief, is that congress should 1) protect American labor from having to compete with slave labor abroad, and 2) we should do what the US Constitution tells us to do regarding banking, and nationalize it.  There should simply be a congressional banking group empowered to conduct monetary policy.  The thing is, I hear almost no consensus of this, or any other ideas of what a more honest government might do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1119217517 Bruce Brummitt

    Some good ideas…but we need to look at the big picture.  How everything is intertwined and how we can switch directions…elegantly…or it will be forced upon us kicking and screaming.

    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/crisis-civilization/ 

  • Alisa

    Bill keeps using the royal “we” as if we all had a part in this disaster. Hell no! I voted AGAINST BUSH twice to no avail. I saw the disaster coming from a mile away, from the phony war in Iraq to the phony housing market bubble. If Gore had been president (and not had the election stolen from him by the Supreme Court no less) we would not have gone into Iraq and certainly would have been more likely to address the issues of climate change. Not sure what can be done now, the damage has already been done and we’re past the tipping point.

    And the fact that you now have to have millions of dollars to get elected (again thx to the fascists on the Supreme Court) only guarantees more corruption.

    I don’t have kids, but given the way things are going, maybe that’s for the best.

  • Anonymous

     If Gore had become president, Mossad would have killed him to make their man Lieberman president.  Can you say “war with Iran/”

  • mbrecker

    Unfortunately, for not all but many it feels better to just cut somebody down, instead of actually dealing with a problem. Now we have Obama who’s continued many of Bush II’s policies. May of his supporters either don’t see this or just refuse to face reality.

    If Obama wins and the “promised change” never happens, will theey be disappointed again?

  • Prof_deal

    If the majority of Americans only knew and/or cared about this–what a wonderful change might occur!

  • Buzzy

     If Gore had taken office there is a possibility that we wouldn’t have even been attacked on  9/11.

  • Anonymous

    I was surprised to se that education is not on your topic list.  Is there a way you could resurrect what you did with PBS  in the 90′s?  It dealt with the inequity in the school system in Ohio.  

    Right now, Michelle Rhee and anti-teacher’s union are the only voices we are hearing.  We need to hear all sides of  this issue instead of  it’s just “bad teachers.”  Never do we hear about the inequity of property taxes, or the parents involvement or non-involvement, or living in a society that seems to value celebrity and going to the mall more than a good education.

    You represent one of the few voices people still trust.  Please get involved.

  • EarnestBorgnine

    And as Joseph Cambell said….”Only Death is Peace, Life is Trouble” At some point we will all outgrow life. Something to remember as we journey though.

  • Djbret

    To personincharge43 (June 18) and, I suppose, to Brian Williams whose work I enjoy and respect, I beg to differ. What does it say about our generation(s) that we are willing to leave this mess to our children to unravel–if indeed we have not put things beyond a cure by our own failure to act? Our legacy is that we are cowards, certainly afraid that making the necessary changes will pull what is left out from under us, and more than willing to shrug our shoulders and put the fix in the hands of those who are our victims.  Anyone over 40 should be ashamed. Didn’t vote for the alleged perpetrators? That is a cheap out. First of all, the housing market’s rise and inevitable collapse was orchestrated under Bill Clinton, not George Bush, with the $200k/every 2 year capital gain exemption.  The truth is that the top 1% ( or maybe 2%) control almost everything and their policies and practices are all designed to keep them at the top. The middle class, what’s left of us, cannot wait for our young people to find their voice. We need to do something, every one of us, starting right this minute. So Brian should have been speaking to the kids about their parents role (by action or inaction and even insufficient action) in the lack of jobs, loss of stature in the world, and corruption that seems to permeate every aspect of our society.  they face on graduation.

  • Olbigead

     No it would have happened. The plot was already in motion under Clinton’s watch. That’s not to say Gore would have surely handled it better than the retard.

  • clearthinker

    I graded high school exit exams.  Sorry, Bill.  Most of the kids are mired in religious fanatism and fantasy, even in the California bay area.

  • Linda Oneill51

    Bill is so right.  The greed of so many, carried out with full knowledge that they are harming the ordinary citizen, mostly by the rich, are destroying our civilization and planet.

    We may fall just like the Roman empire did.

    The love of money is the root of all evil.

  • Jerry McKinney

    This was one of the clearest, most succinct description of our politics that I have ever heard. Thank you, Bill Moyers, for your commitment to the public good.