Generational Politics

Over the holidays there were many opportunities – with kids, friends’ kids, and even grandkids – to reflect on the differences of political views between generations. Winston Churchill’s famous aphorism – “Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.” – sheds some light, but there is more going on here. Three points:

In one gathering where a group of San Francisco 20 to 35 year olds were asked to explain their generation’s perspectives, the themes were the technological obsolescence of their elders, universal support for the usual “social justice causes” (gay marriage, equal rights for women, help for the homeless), and their personal need to focus on careers rather than politics. Most disappointing, on the technology question the concept of content seems less important than the tools that are used. Perhaps there is a Marshall McLuhan “the medium is the message” thought here – with two inch by three inch iPhone screens and 144 character tweets it is hard to get into nuance, much less conflicting opinions. One old fogey’s opinion.

The broader question of generational differences includes Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1966) versus Generation X (about 1966 to 1985) and Generation Y/ Millenials (about 1985 to 2005), but should really begin with the World War II generation to understand how relatively trivial the later issues and accomplishments are.

– The world as we know it was set between 1941 and 1955 by a very serious generation led by visionaries. The defeat of Hitler and Tojo; the containment of Stalin and Mao. (Visit Auschwitz or read Yevtushenko’s poetry about the Russian gulag if you can contemplate alternate histories.) The peaceful reconstruction of Germany and Japan. The establishment of the UN, NATO, SEATO, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund. The GI Bill, the interstate highway system, the rise of the middle class. I like Ike.

– The Boomers had great social upheaval fueled by opposition to the Viet Nam draft, the birth control pill, and drugs, and including the Kennedy, Kennedy, and King assasinations.  Serious stuff; less serious than the 40s, but the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 could have been much worse. By the end of Reagan’s time the international game was won and the nuclear Doomsday Clock started moving backwards. The country prospered as the dominant global economic, military, and cultural power.

– The period of Gen X coming of political age has a milestone of 9/11 2001 and its aftermath in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the NSA as well as a general drift to the left, eventually countered by the Tea Party. Big Government has continued to get bigger – Medicare Part B; Obamacare; EPA – with a two term big government Republican president followed by a two term bigger government Democrat.

So, the question is the attitude of the Gen Y / Millenials as they achieve political maturity. Ultimately it is not about tweets and Facebook versus Pinterest or Instagram, it is about the major events shaping the world as they start to pay attention – events that transcend the editorial board at the New York Times and the writers on the Daily Show. Here are a few:

– The reemergence of the thousand year old Sunni-Shia schism in the Muslim world as the US withdraws from a leadership role in the region. Maybe some Millenials won’t care since we will be much less oil dependant, but the globe continues to shrink and the reduced American stature will eventually affect our allies and our commerce. And a Persian – Arab nuclear arms race will demand attention.

– The painfully obvious fact that with Obamacare the federal government has exceeded its ability to effectively manage, whatever one’s humanistic inclinations. In time, it won’t be about the web site or even the president’s lies – it will be about an understanding of the limited capabilities of government.

–  In all eras, young people like liberty, and the “out of control” NSA of the last decade has to be a major offense – all the worse because it is an abuse of their technology and adversely affects the global attractiveness of American technology leaders.

– The unemployment scars of the Bush/Obama economy will not be as deep as those of the Great Depression, but the 10 million youths unable to find work will definitely favor policies fueling economic growth. And they will eventually feel the burden of the $17 trillion debt that we are bequeathing them.

It is so clear that the next generation should be conservatives. We just need to figure out how to explain it to them. Now, how does that hashtag thing work?


This week’s video is Chris Cristie’s response to his “Bridgegate” scandal. While ugly, his press conference offers a sharp contrast to President Obama’s response to Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the IRS scandal, the NSA spying scandal, and numberous other “the president didn’t know” incidents.