On the baby boom, Obama said: "We reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future."
On climate change: "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."
Against this rousing rhetoric stand daunting realities.
Of course, there are conflicts between the young and old. In 2000, there were 45 million Social Security recipients; by 2025, the Social Security Administration projects the number at 79 million. Already, paying for retirees is the largest source of federal spending. In 2012, Social Security ($762 billion) exceeded defense ($651 billion) by 17 percent; Medicare and Medicaid together ($720 billion) also topped defense. (Two-thirds of Medicaid goes to the elderly and disabled.)
Excluding these programs from even modest budget cuts — as Obama seems inclined to do — imposes huge costs on the young. Their taxes will rise, big deficits will persist or spending cuts will be concentrated on other programs more important to the working population (for starters, grants to state and local governments). There’s no honest way around these conflicts, but Obama pretended they don’t exist.