Here’s a New Year’s prediction guaranteed to last longer than your new gym membership: 2014 will be the year of the millennial revolt. It will be the year that a majority of millennials become disillusioned with their allegiance to today’s liberal movement and look elsewhere for political relevance.
The shift is already under way. According to a December survey of millennials published by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, young Americans are turning on the president, his health-care law, the NSA’s domestic surveillance, and the political system in general. Only 41 percent of millennials approve of the job President Obama is doing, while 54 percent disapprove. A meager 38 percent approve of Obamacare, and 57 percent disapprove.
Much ink has already been spilled over Pajama Boy, and rightly so. The pseudo-sophisticated twentysomething poster boy in red plaid pajamas, caressing a mug of hot chocolate while advising us to talk about Obamacare over the holidays, hardly represents reality for millennials.
The real Pajama Boy has a 50 percent chance of being unemployed or underemployed, on average is laden with thousands of dollars of student-loan debt, and is increasingly likely to still live at home with his parents. For this “young invincible,” hot chocolate and health care are probably the last things on his mind.
And yet, in the modern liberal paradigm, Pajama Boy is less concerned with finding a job, getting married, or buying a house than he is with extracting benefits from the government — in this case, health care. Pajama Boy is a far cry from the Marlboro Man or Rosie the Riveter.
Pajama Boy is the natural counterpart to Julia, the character from President Obama’s 2012 campaign advertisement “The Life of Julia.” Julia is a single woman whose life is defined by her interactions with the government and its services. Family, community, and church are nonexistent. The campaign wanted to paint her as an “independent” woman, but it only revealed her extreme dependency on all things government.
It doesn’t stop with Pajama Boy and “The Life of Julia,” though. The Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and ProgressNow Colorado Education recently combined for their own series of pro-Obamacare advertisements. One ad, dubbed “Let’s Get Physical,” shows a young woman standing next to a young man, holding a pack of birth-control pills while giving a thumbs-up. The text of the ad reads, “OMG, he’s hot! Let’s hope he’s as easy to get as this birth control. My health insurance covers the pill, which means all I have to worry about is getting him between the covers. I got insurance.”
These ads depict millennials as emotional, instinctive animals acting on appetites, impulses, and desires rather than moral and intellectual beings capable of acting according to reason and prudence. The liberal poster child is a product of the state, dependent on cradle-to-grave government support, to which free birth control is a higher end than a well-paying job or — heaven forbid — starting a family.
For many millennials, the scales have fallen. They realize that the future of Obamacare depends on their signing up to pay higher insurance premiums and deductibles. In the era of iPhones and PS4s, they realize that a government that can’t design a website can’t be expected to manage the intricacies of the entire health-care industry. In the wake of the news that the NSA collects mountains of metadata, they also fret that the government that wants you to talk about health care could (with a warrant) listen in on that very conversation.
Given the bleak reality for many millennials today, it’s obvious that the Democratic party can’t talk straight to them. Instead, it manufactures witty, tongue-in-cheek social-media campaigns and faux controversies like the “war on women.” (As with most faux liberal controversies, the data seem to suggest the opposite — in 2009 women became a majority of the work force for the first time ever, while 2013 saw women under 30 earn a higher median income than their male counterparts did.)
These tricks worked in 2008; they worked again, albeit to a far lesser degree, in 2012; but in 2014, it appears the magic has finally worn off. Many millennials see through the catchy rhetoric to the empty promises.
Recent data suggest millennials actually share more conservative views of government than the conventional wisdom, or even millennials themselves, would lead you to believe. Fifty-one percent of millennials believe that when government runs something, it is usually wasteful and inefficient. Eighty-six percent of millennials support private Social Security accounts, and 74 percent would change Medicare so people can buy private insurance. Sixty-three percent support free trade, while only 38 percent support affirmative action. When it comes to questions of the scope and purpose of the federal government, millennials would appear to have more in common with the Tea Party than with Julia and Pajama Boy.
Here is the opening for conservatives to win back millennials. Rather than pander or talk down to them, conservatives must offer positive, uplifting solutions that emphasize upward mobility, opportunity, and personal liberty through education, job creation, and reforming the over-intrusive federal government. It’s easy to mock Pajama Boy. The real question is whether conservatives can travel to colleges, universities, and the inner cities with specific policy solutions addressing student-loan debt, free-market health-care alternatives, the proper role and oversight of government surveillance programs, and private-sector job creation (and if they can do it without sticking their foot in their mouth). We shall see.
— Chris Beach is producer of Bill Bennett’s Morning in America, and Alison Howard is communications director of Concerned Women for America.