Brandon Griefe at U.S. News and World Report wrote a piece yesterday arguing that the Republicans have an opportunity to make amends with young, Millennial voters given the “genuine fear” created by Democratic spending.
With such a large and active base of young supporters it would appear Democrats have their Republican opponents nearing checkmate. But a closer look at the chessboard reveals neither party is in good strategic position to topple the other’s king.
The Republicans’ problem has been their inability to connect with youth and minorities. Only recently have they begun to deemphasize the socially conservative aspects of their platform that have polarized voters since the culture wars of the 1960s. A recent Pew Research poll found that young adults are “clearly more accepting than older Americans of homosexuality, more inclined to see evolution as the best explanation of human life and…are much less likely to affiliate with any religious tradition.” These and other social issues are not major concerns of young adults, a fact that is slowly being realized as Republicans seek to broaden their voting base.
But Democrats’ recent legislative priorities show they’ve also done a poor job at setting the board up for success. Enormous debt and deficit spending to fund a variety of new programs has created a dire fiscal future that is creating genuine fear among young adults. Then-Sen. Barack Obama said it best in 2006:
Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership.
The rhetoric of 2006 has not translated into reality come 2010. The failure of leadership now continues under his watch with trillions in new debt obligations. Young adults will not be able to ignore the red ink that fills the nation’s ledger forever. Unless Democrats act quickly to reverse the growth of the government’s deficit they will poison the well of Millennial support that carried them to historic victories in 2008.
Griefe’s analysis is faulty and disingenuous for three reasons.
1.) I don’t believe I saw anything from Griefe or anyone else about deficit spending when George W. Bush was in the White House. When Bush entered the Oval Office, Bill Clinton handed his administration a surplus. When he left, we were trillions of dollars in debt. Two major tax cuts and two wars did quite a bit of damage:
Obama’s stimulus package accounted for only .07/$1.00 of the national debt when he signed it into law. Nearly 90 percent of the debt was created under George W. Bush.
To clean up the mess Bush left, Obama has to spend more.
2.) The message about the national debt does not carry any water with Millennials, especially since they are encountering the worst youth unemployment rate since World War II. Our friend Karlo tackled this conservative talking point last year, aptly comparing someone climbing a hill to one’s life-long relationship with government.
Imagine for a moment that you are trying to traverse a hill. The hill represents how much taxes you expect to pay over your lifetime. One end of the hill is the start (the beginning of your life), the top of the hill is middle-age, and the other end of the hill is, well, six-feet-under. At both ends of the hill, you pay relatively little in taxes, and the top of the hill is when you pay the most in taxes. This is what tax-paying looks like throughout the course of one’s life. For some generations, traversing this hill was made easier (but not faster), because the government helped invest in the well-being of the tax-payer very early on in life.
This is not the case with Millennials. The rising cost (PDF) of college and beyond has not resulted in a proportionate increase in services or resources. When you place this fact of rising costs into the context of rising college attendance, the effect is magnified. The share of young people that have attended college has increased 21 percentage points from the 1970s to the present (PDF, pg. 5). What’s more is the fact young people with post-graduate degrees on are on the rise, too. What all this amounts to is a more difficult (but not slower) journey over the hill. It’s almost as if Millennials have to carry a heavy backpack (read: student debt) and still keep pace with everyone else. Now add to that the fact that the end of the hill for Millennials is much farther away than it is for previous generations due to longer life expectancy.
In addition to this, Millennials themselves tell National Journal that they think Obama’s spending has been a good thing.
A plurality of Millennials say they believe that the president’s agenda will increase rather than diminish opportunities for their generation (41 percent to 27 percent). More respondents say that his policies averted an even worse economic crisis (44 percent) than believe that Obama ran up the national debt without doing much good (36 percent). By 46 percent to 31 percent, they also say that the comprehensive health care reform bill Obama recently signed into law is a good thing for the country. Just one-fourth believe that the country is worse off because of the president’s policies; the rest feel that his efforts have significantly improved conditions (16 percent) or are beginning to move the nation in the right direction, even if they haven’t yet produced major gains (43 percent).
Given the toxic economy the Bush policies gave Millennials as they have come of age, making the figurative hill even steeper, the government must invest in the youngest generation to ensure they have a chance of getting over the top, and thankfully, it is.
3.) Griefe comically cites a list of GOPers including Rand Paul and Bob McDonnell as smartly handling social issues in order to keep the focus on the fiscal matters at hand.
This is pretty simple.
Rand Paul doesn’t think the 1964 Civil Rights Act should have passed.
Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia issues a proclamation for Confederate History Month in the commonwealth, failing to mention trafficking of human beings and the consequential brutal decades of Jim Crow.
I’m not sure whether Griefe had a brain lapse here or what. Griefe is right that if the GOP can’t get social issues right, they won’t have any shot at Millennials period. Justin Miller at The Atlantic notes this, describing Millennials as the generation least tolerant of racism. The list of Republicans Griefe provides, though, is laughable. Their clumsy navigation of social issues has provided Democrats with several opportunities to beat back any Republican momentum.
The generational theft argument sounds good, but it doesn’t play with young people. It plays even less with Millennials when it’s shrouded in social issues.
Nice effort. Back to the drawing board.