May 15, 2007

The Consequences of Growing Up During the Vacation from History

Marc Comtois

Michael Barone observes that George Bush has done a poor job of selling the Republican party--and by extension, conservatism--to the under-30 crowd. For instance, Barone writes, "when Bush's call for [reforming Social Security] was opposed by Democrats, the response of young voters seemed to be, 'Whatever.'" Barone explains why:

My sense when I look at what young voters tell pollsters is that they assume that everything is going to be just fine if things roll along pretty much as they are. They have grown up in an era, lasting nearly 25 years now, when we've had low inflation coupled with economic growth 95 percent of the time. They may grouse about gas prices or paying off college loans, but they're able to get jobs that mostly pay pretty well and often are more interesting and less backbreaking than the vaunted factory jobs of the past.

They have grown up in an era when personal choices that were stigmatized as immoral not so long ago are accepted and even respected. You can live with your girlfriend or boyfriend before you get married; you can be gay -- nobody is going to give you a very hard time...

The one issue on which young people seem dissatisfied with things as they are is the military conflict in Iraq -- that would be with the exception of most of the young people who have served there and who are re-enlisting at higher than projected rates. The attitude of those without military ties seems to be: If we just get out of Iraq, if we just get rid of George Bush, then everything will be all right. We won't see suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices on our television screens; we won't see mass demonstrations by Europeans and Muslims against us; we won't have all this controversy and bitterness in our partisan politics.

Today's 21-year-old was 3 when the Berlin Wall came down; his or her parents were born well after World War II. Unlike people who lived through the experience of 1914-1918 or 1939-1945, they have no reason to draw the conclusion that everything can -- and sometimes does -- go terribly wrong.

Yet, the younger generation aren't necessarily to blame for having a skewed perspective of what is "normal." They grew up during a decade of peace and prosperity. Perhaps, in a way, it's akin to those who look back to the post-WWII 1950's longingly. During both the 1990's and the 1950's, America was basking in the glow of international triumph and a surging economy. But in the background, the seeds of a new conflict were sown and began to grow. Many adults didn't see the new threat on the horizon--or didn't take it seriously enough. Heck, many still don't. So how can we be surprised when many of our youth don't either?

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Conservatism had a much more effective spokesman in the '80s: Reagan. Love him or hate him, Reagan knew how to connect with young people and deliver a much more positive message than the "If you're not with us, you're against us" spiel that will be Bush and Chaney's legacy.
Even the South Park conservatives who support the White House on Iraq and economic issues have gotten tired of the bashing on social issues and seeing those who don't follow the hard right's program declared lepers by the GOP leadership. One doesn't have to look farther than Rhode Island to see how destructive hardcore conservatism has been to the party.

Posted by: Rhody at May 15, 2007 5:10 PM

Well, if conservatism is to be defined by this Administration-Big government, police state, global interventionism, subservience to Israeli interests-I would hope there would be fewer people identifying themselves as conservatives.

Posted by: Mike at May 15, 2007 7:54 PM

I'm 19 and the lone under-20 con in Rhode Island. It's an ugly climate for conservatism around here, with flashy revolutionary socialism and Che Guevara t-shirts attracting much more youthful enthusiasm than something as mundane and practical as individual Soc Sec accounts. This despite the fact that the former would make my (highly-educated, self-centered) generation poorer.

To start, it's an image problem.

We're just not very romantic; certainly not so much as Che or the Paris Commune. 'Conservatism' evokes either stodgy fat-'n'-rich Tories or sexually repressed Jerry Falwell types. Hell, I'll bet few in my generation from the average suburban high school know /anything/ about conservatism other than its hateful racism and ignorant bigotry.

I was taught about socialism and anarchy as intellectual movements, but not modern conservatism.

Despite all this, I have much more faith in the critical reasoning skills of my generation than a lot of cons seem to. Once they're out of the schools and actually have to budget their own money, and make real-world decisions with real-world consequences, I think they'll find that the conservative programme is much more conducive to success.

I think we should give high school kids a six month subscription to both National Review and The Nation at 17. We'll let their critical reasoning skills decide the outcome, but I'll guarantee you an intelligent and critical conservative majority for a damned generation.

Truth is, the left is wrong, and their get-elected-now economic populism is dead set on bankrupting my generation. SS will be insolvent by 2017. I'm going to be 65 in 2052, and I'll still be working to pay back the debts of my parents' generation.

It's not the president's fault. None of this is. None of the things he's been blamed for in the past seven years (all the way back to the "stealing" of the Florida elections) have been his fault. If you want a real reason why conservatism is anathema to young people in Rhode Island, look to the left's #1 boogeyman - historical prejudice.

Posted by: Nick at May 16, 2007 12:32 AM


have faith my young friend, it has long been for thus, as Winston Churchill said:

"Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains."

You are already ahead of the curve, so be thankful for that. Your comments regarding the Che T-shirts brought back many memories. I attended BU in the 70s, ultimately obtaining a degree in Political Science, and the Che-clad characters you describe where ubiquitous even then as they followed Howard Zinn around like a bunch of puppies.

Four years of college, and the "Poli Sci" degree,and I was never exposed to conservative thoughts or ideas! It's been that way at least since the 1960s.

Most of your peers, as I did, will eventually grow up and recognize the many and inevitable fallacies of leftist dogma. In particular, this will occur among those who want to improve their lot in life, and pursue the American dream through ambition and work.

Some of your peers, who do not need to rise up through their own efforts - think people like Myrth York, Sheldon Whitehouse, the Kennedy's - will never advance out of their leftist world view for, like professors, they live in their own kind of "ivory tower."

Others of your peers will also continue to embrace collectivism, as they follow their kindred spirits into (non-military) government employment and organized labor (which largely are becoming one in the same).

With that thought, I will leave you with another quote from Winston Churchill. Being ahead of the curve in relation to many of your peers, you already know the wisdom of it, but will find it amusing, and you may want to keep it in your pocket to wield against your Che-clad peers from time to time:

"The inherent vice of capitalism is the uneven division of blessings, while the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal division of misery."

Posted by: Tom W at May 16, 2007 11:29 AM

Nick, think of it this way: God removed a huge albatross from around the neck of conservatism yesterday. I may not be of the conservative camp, but I applaud conservatives who turn their back on the punitive model represented by the harsher evangelical elements and the politiicans they prop up. It's similar to the process liberals had to go through when encountering the limits of the welfare state.

Posted by: Rhody at May 16, 2007 11:33 AM