Thomas B. Edsall, who is even older than I am and definitely a geezer, writes that today’s young people might not grow up to be Democrats, after all. That’s because a new Pew Research poll says the young folks are more interested in personal and sexual autonomy than in economic inequality.
Geezer Dude: This is because they are young folks. You could have said the same thing about the Boomers when we were young folks, including the left-wing antiwar ones. Economic issues were not on our radar at all, as I remember. This was partly because the economy had been, on the whole, pretty sweet through most of our lifetimes, and we naively assumed nothing could screw that up. The 1960s- and early 1970s-era New Left was even opposed to labor unions, mostly because unions were run by old white guys who fought integration and badmouthed affirmative action, and partly because we didn’t appreciate what could happen without unions.
Teens and young adults are always primarily concerned about personal and sexual autonomy, because that’s the standard life phase associated with being a teen or young adult. It’s normal. If you’re still struggling with those things when you’re 50, though, that’s a problem.
Teens and young adults also may not yet fully appreciate how screwed up The System is and how everything is skewed to favor the socially and economically privileged. People who are privileged their entire lives often never learn that lesson, of course. They build on familial wealth and connections and consider themselves to be “self-made men” (or women).
Much of the Boomer generation was reasonably well insulated from real hardship in part because of the accumulation of wealth from the end of World War II to 1972, when it all peaked and started to slide backward. And even those of us who missed the economic security boat often were well into middle age before we realized our assumptions were wrong, that we were never going to catch up to where we expected to be, and that economic injustice is terribly and ruthlessly unjust, indeed. If anything, seems to me, the young folks are learning that lesson a whole lot sooner than we did.
In short, I seriously doubt a majority of today’s 20-somethings who aren’t already libertarian randbots will ever embrace some future warmed-over version of Reaganomics. While there is no way to predict where today’s 20-somethings will be when they are 50-somethings, I doubt it will be anywhere today’s Republicans want them to go.
Related: Matt Yglesias asks, How long can the GOP last as the cranky oldster party?
There’s something very oldsterish about contemporary conservative politics. The constant bickering about Ronald Reagan is very odd to anyone too young to have any particular recollection of the Reagan years. Calling a group of people “Beyoncé Voters” as an insult is weird. Some of this oldsterism is just tics, but some of it has policy implications. The sort of budgetary priorities that call for huge cuts in all domestic spending, except no cuts at all for anyone born before 1959 is kind of weird. The huge freakout over New York City starting a bicycle program last summer was bizarre. It’s easy to imagine a political party that’s broadly favorable to low taxes and light regulation without sharing this particular set of tics. And then there was the time George Will wrote a column-length rant against blue jeans.
They do all want to pretend the 1960s either never happened or that they can still be avenged against it (remember the brilliant campaign to get college students to burn their Obamacare cards?). Recently Re. Renee Ellmers (NC-R) actually said,
Men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level. Many of my male colleagues, when they go to the House floor, you know, they’ve got some pie chart or graph behind them and they’re talking about trillions of dollars and how, you know, the debt is awful and, you know, we all agree with that … we need our male colleagues to understand that if you can bring it down to a woman’s level and what everything that she is balancing in her life — that’s the way to go.
The Congresswoman was born in 1964, Wikipedia says. This is the same year Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique.