Memo to the Titanic

Nate Silver has picked up on my generational political “imprinting” hypothesis, which says that at the point a new generation becomes old enough to be aware of politics, it is “imprinted” with whatever narrative is playing out in politics at the time. That imprinting carries with it political memes and values that will stick with most people of that generation the rest of their lives, no matter what.

My hypothesis was based on pure observation, but Nate, bless him, has real data. And he says that much voter behavior hinges on the question “Who was president when you turned 18?”

Nate has a chart that shows people who turned 18 during the Eisenhower and Reagan administrations are more likely to identify themselves as “Republican” than people who turned 18 during any other recent administration. And if this trend continues, the GOP had better be worried. The crop of young folks who turned 18 during the G.W. Bush administration is the least Republican generation ever.

Nate says this political partisan imprinting can be “quite persistent as the voter moves through her lifecourse.” In other words, once imprinted, the imprinting tends to stick, even if political reality changes. The imprinting going on now will impact politics for the next half century.


Along the same lines, Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais write for the Los Angeles Times that “The Republican Party ignores young ‘millennials’ at its peril.”

The “millennials” — the generation of Americans born between 1982 and 2003 — now identify as Democrats by a ratio of 2 to 1. They are the first in four generations to contain more self-perceived liberals than conservatives. …

…Only 9% of millennials polled expressed a favorable opinion of the Republican Party. Only 7% were positive about the GOP’s congressional leaders. By contrast, 65% of millennials had a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party, and a majority also approved of congressional Democrats.

The authors attribute this shift to how the millennials were raised, but I think the real difference is George W. Bush and the current Republican Party. These young folks came of age during a national train wreck.

For the first time in living memory, young people do not assume their lives will be as financially blessed as their parents were. Even those who go to college and who get “better” jobs spend much of their early adulthood paying off college loans instead of saving for the first house. “Job security” has become an oxymoron. Once they’re too old to be carried on their parents’ health insurance, vast numbers of young people are cut off from receiving medical care.

And the GOP is utterly oblivious to this. Republicans are not addressing these issues at all except to call for continuing the failed policies that created the current reality. This is not to say Democrats will do a better job of addressing these issues, but at least Democrats seem to have a clue.

Millennials tend to be more knowledgeable about environmental issues and more accepting that global climate change is real than previous generations. They also are less homophobic. The current GOP is laissez faire on economics and business, but authoritarian on social issues. But millennials tend to be laissez faire on social issues and want to see government play a more pro-active role in steering the economy. They feel locked out and want the nation’s wealth to be “redistributed,” dammit!

Two other op eds at the Los Angeles Times deserve mention. Mickey Edwards, who appears to be a conservative, argues that “The Nation Needs a Better GOP.”

If Democrats control the legislative and executive branches without meaningful opposition, the country will be the weaker for it. Some of President Obama’s initiatives would dramatically shift the boundaries between public and private, reshape the relationship between citizens and government and alter the lens through which America views its international commitments. These are serious matters and deserve serious, and constructive, engagement.

In the long run it is far better for the country if a broad range of views — or, at least, as broad a range of views as one finds in American politics, which generally isn’t that broad — is represented in government. It’s good when the majority view is challenged intelligently by a thoughtful minority. If nothing else, it keeps the majority on its toes and goads them into thinking through their proposals more clearly. However,

Today, the Republican belief system has degenerated into an embarrassing hodgepodge that worships political victory more than ideas; supports massive deficits; plunges the nation into “just-in-case” wars without adequate troops, supplies or armor; dismisses constitutional strictures; and campaigns on a platform of turning national problem-solving over to “Joe the Plumber.” It’s hard to see how all that points the way to a reawakening of voters to trust in the GOP. …

… Merely attacking administration proposals and labeling Obama a “socialist” will only ensure that instead of rebounding, as the GOP did in 1968, the party will slip even further into irrelevance. And that will not be good for America.

Finally, one other op ed says “What Republicans need is a mutiny.” To take the party away from the troglodytes, yes? Alas, this op ed was written by Richard A. Viguerie, a troglodyte’s troglodyte.

Democrats have nothing to fear from today’s Republican Party leaders. That’s why Democrats have taken to targeting Rush Limbaugh and others who aren’t in formal leadership positions in the GOP but who forcefully articulate a conservative vision.

To paraphrase the Gipper, anyone who thinks Rush Limbaugh is forcefully articulating “a conservative vision” is the problem, not the solution.

Fred Barnes actually wrote this for next week’s Weekly Standard:

Improving the party’s image is a worthy cause, but it isn’t what Republicans ought to be emphasizing right now. They have a more important mission: to be the party of no. And not just a party that bucks Obama and Democrats on easy issues like releasing Gitmo terrorists in this country, but one committed to aggressive, attention-grabbing opposition to the entire Obama agenda.

I hope all Republicans read this and pay close attention to what Fred says.

If Republicans scan their history, they’ll discover unbridled opposition to bad Democratic policies pays off. Those two factors, unattractive policies plus strong opposition, were responsible for the Republican landslides in 1938, 1946, 1966, 1980, and 1994. A similar blowout may be beyond the reach of Republicans in 2010, but stranger things have happened in electoral politics. They’ll lose nothing by trying.

GOP: Barnes is a wise man, and you should do what he says. Please.

Leaving 20th Century Economics Behind

Eric Hobsbawm writes in The Guardian about the economic realities of the 21st century.

The 20th century is well behind us, but we have not yet learned to live in the 21st, or at least to think in a way that fits it. That should not be as difficult as it seems, because the basic idea that dominated economics and politics in the last century has patently disappeared down the plughole of history. This was the way of thinking about modern industrial economies, or for that matter any economies, in terms of two mutually exclusive opposites: capitalism or socialism.

This is exactly right, I think, but until a majority of our politicians and what passes for public intellectuals grasp this, our policies will drag way behind realities.

We have lived through two practical attempts to realise these in their pure form: the centrally state-planned economies of the Soviet type and the totally unrestricted and uncontrolled free-market capitalist economy. The first broke down in the 1980s, and the European communist political systems with it. The second is breaking down before our eyes in the greatest crisis of global capitalism since the 1930s.

The True Believers of both sides will argue no, no, no, pure Marxism/Free Market Capitalism has never been tried. But “pure” anything has never been tried. That’s the reality of our human condition. Any endeavor that requires human input is never pure. It will suffer some degree of corruption. Put together people, money, and power, and corruption is a certainty. That’s why any workable, sustainable model factors in corruption and makes some provision to keep it to a minimum.

That’s what the Marxists and the Ayn Rand culties cannot understand. Give all power to a central government planning authority, and you’re screwed. Give all power to an elite cabal of corporate heads, and you’re screwed. There has to be a way to reign in the power, to diffuse it, to oversee it and make it accountable to other power. That’s one reason the public and private sector need each other — to keep each other semi-honest.

The future, like the present and the past, belongs to mixed economies in which public and private are braided together in one way or another. But how? That is the problem for everybody today, but especially for people on the left.

From here, Hobsbawm talks about recent British history, New Labour and Thatcherism. But similar things go on here (is it the almost-common language?). Our Right has effectively taken itself out of the conversation (even though it won’t shut up) because it can’t let go of its old ideologies and aphorisms that don’t work any more. I’m not sure if what passes for a “Left” here is fully cognizant of the new reality, either.

But unlike the Right, the current Left has no one economic model that we all put on an altar and worship. At least some among us are looking hard at the current reality and thinking through solutions that might work in the real world, as opposed to solutions that make good sound bites and look good on a bumper sticker.

But a progressive policy needs more than just a bigger break with the economic and moral assumptions of the past 30 years. It needs a return to the conviction that economic growth and the affluence it brings is a means and not an end. The end is what it does to the lives, life-chances and hopes of people.

That’s something else that neither the Marxists nor the free-market Randbots ever understood.

The De-Reaganization of America

Paul Krugman is almost giddy about the Obama Administration’s first budget. Money for healthcare reform! Money for climate change! Woo-HOO!

And these new priorities are laid out in a document whose clarity and plausibility seem almost incredible to those of us who grew accustomed to reading Bush-era budgets, which insulted our intelligence on every page. This is budgeting we can believe in.

For a review of some of the atrocities of Bush Administration budgeting, see “Bust This Budget,” February 2008.

And get this:

Many will ask whether Mr. Obama can actually pull off the deficit reduction he promises. Can he actually reduce the red ink from $1.75 trillion this year to less than a third as much in 2013? Yes, he can.

A New York Times headline, “A Bold Plan Sweeps Away Reagan Ideas.” David Leonhardt writes,

The budget that President Obama proposed on Thursday is nothing less than an attempt to end a three-decade era of economic policy dominated by the ideas of Ronald Reagan and his supporters.

The Obama budget — a bold, even radical departure from recent history, wrapped in bureaucratic formality and statistical tables — would sharply raise taxes on the rich, beyond where Bill Clinton had raised them. It would reduce taxes for everyone else, to a lower point than they were under either Mr. Clinton or George W. Bush. And it would lay the groundwork for sweeping changes in health care and education, among other areas.

More than anything else, the proposals seek to reverse the rapid increase in economic inequality over the last 30 years. They do so first by rewriting the tax code and, over the longer term, by trying to solve some big causes of the middle-class income slowdown, like high medical costs and slowing educational gains.

Headline in the Los Angeles Times: “Obama’s budget is the end of an era.”

Reporting from Washington — Not since Lyndon B. Johnson and Franklin D. Roosevelt has a president moved to expand the role of government so much on so many fronts — and with such a demanding sense of urgency. …

… Even more stark than the breadth and scale of Obama’s proposals was his determination to break with the conservative principles that have dominated national politics and policymaking since Ronald Reagan’s election as president in 1980.

Mike Madden writes in Salon,

The 142-page proposal laid out a sweeping, ambitious agenda for the future: Obama would raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for healthcare for the uninsured; cap pollution emissions; put billions more dollars into infrastructure and new technology, building on the money in the massive economic stimulus program Obama already pushed through Congress; invest in new education programs; and roll back the U.S. troop presence in Iraq and, more slowly, Afghanistan. There were proposals to save money by modernizing the healthcare system, only paying for treatments that are proven to work, and by eliminating federal farm subsidies to the biggest and wealthiest recipients, mostly agribusiness interests. This is not, in other words, George W. Bush’s budget.

Congress — pass it, and let’s get on with healing our country.