Making the click-through worthwhile: A note of skepticism about the latest argument that America’s young people are launching a leftist revolution in American politics, the country begins to see the full consequences of an intensely divided government, some guy you’ve probably never heard of announces he’s running for president, and a fascinating argument about the Bible and the modern role of social-media outrages.
Yes, Yes, America’s Young People Are on the Verge of a Leftist Revolution. Again.
FiveThirtyEight offers a lengthy profile of Sean McElwee and “a cadre of young left activists whose voices have grown louder in the years following Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump.” They’re described as disillusioned with traditional Democratic politics and enthusiastically embracing and promoting socialism and other ideas once considered radical and far removed from the American tradition. In the article, McElwee calls himself an “Overton Window Mover.” (The Overton Window is a term for the range of ideas considered acceptable according to public opinion.)
I don’t doubt that the article is accurately reported, but I feel like I’ve read a lot of variations of the “young impassioned idealists on the Left are about to transform American politics” think-piece before. I remember reading that “Students for Obama” had generated a small army of impassioned young activists, fluent in social media, who had changed campaigns forever. I can remember when Ned Lamont’s victory in the 2006 Connecticut Democratic Senate primary was “a watershed moment for the growing majority of Americans in red states and blue, who want change.” (Joe Lieberman chose to run as an independent and beat him in the general election.)
I remember reading that the Iraq War had generated “an explosion of youth activism” and that the orange-hatted teen and 20-something volunteers for Howard Dean in Iowa were the vanguard of a new force in American politics. And Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 “inspired hopes for a rebirth of ’60s-style political idealism led by young people.” Before that it was Gary Hart’s “politics of a new generation” and George McGovern, and John F. Kennedy.
And some years, young voters do get really enthusiastic and fired up about a Democratic candidate and come out in large numbers. And some years . . . they don’t. If the politics of the past generation have taught us anything, it’s that when you or your party are riding high, you’re probably going to come crashing down in the next cycle or two. Your base voters get disillusioned and complacent. The opposition gets angry and fired up by your actions. You stop representing the future and what could be and you start representing the present and what is. You stop being the fantasy and you become the disappointing reality.
This is not to say that the Republican party’s problems with the Millennials and Generation Z aren’t real and serious. I think Emily Ekins is probably one of the sharpest and most attuned pollsters out there, and when she warns that “people who have become of political age during Trump’s presidency, I think, will be forever more Democratic throughout their lives,” the GOP ought to sit up and listen. Nascent Generation Z doesn’t look all that different from the Millennials, and the Millennials aren’t as young as they used to be* — they’re defined as those from ages 22 to 37. At age 37, your formal education is presumably complete, you’ve been in the workforce for 15 to 19 years or so, you’ve probably been in a serious relationship or married, and if you’re going to be a parent, you’ve probably gotten started by then. If you’re remained liberal throughout those first two decades of your adult life, you’re probably not that likely to shift later.
It’s worth noting that the Overton Window doesn’t just move in the two directions of left and right. Some issues get more or less resolved. The Iraq War is not the issue it was during the Bush years, unemployment is lower than during the Great Recession, and the Supreme Court ruled on gay marriage. The public loses interest in some issues, like the Tea Party-era worries about the deficit and the debt. Some issues both disappear and linger in spirit. The bailouts of the Troubled Asset Relief Program and General Motors are resolved as a matter of policy, but they remain a strong force in our politics by fueling perception that “the game is rigged” and that powerful institutions can count on the government to save them from the consequences of bad decisions, and that the average citizen can’t. Illegal immigration had been slowly building as an issue, but President Trump has made it the central issue of his presidency.
The Overton Window is almost always moving and getting a concept into the realm of discussion isn’t really all that hard. Getting it enacted into policy is. The “Green New Deal” has caught on as a buzzword or slogan, but I’m not seeing the Democratic 2020 contenders giving any specifics about cutting military spending in half. (How many elected officials touting the Green New Deal actually know that’s part of the plan?)
*None of us are, really.
You Wanted Divided Government, America, You Got It
One can fairly argue that by voting for so many House Democratic candidates in 2018, Americans voted for divided government.
And here we are: The federal government has been shut down for 33 days, the U.S. Coast Guard is still capturing migrant smugglers and practicing ice water rescues without pay, the FBI can’t get cash to buy drugs for narcotics stings or pay confidential informants, cyber-security investigations are on hold, and the hit to national GDP is growing by the week.
And the White House and Speaker Pelosi can’t even agree on giving the State of the Union address.
Are you sure divided government was worth it, America?
Guy You’ve Never Heard of Announces He’s Running for President
I’m going to be writing these “Twenty Things” pieces for the rest of my life, apparently: “Democrat Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, says he’s forming an exploratory committee for a 2020 presidential bid.”
You’re probably asking, “Who?” And then you’re probably asking, “Wait, when did the mayoralty of South Bend become a stepping stone to the presidency? Doesn’t this guy make Julian Castro look like John Quincy Adams? What’s so special about him?”
He’s got a nice resume — magna cum laude Harvard, honors from Oxford, Naval Reservist, deployed to Afghanistan in 2013. And then you see this in the AP story: “If he were to win the Democratic nomination, Buttigieg would be the first openly gay presidential nominee from a major political party.”
Back in 2016, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni speculated that Buttigieg could be “the first gay president.” There’s your brand.
ADDENDA: A spectacular piece by Michael Brendan Dougherty:
Our culture has lost its faith in Christ. It has lost a Bible. But it still does a deep exegesis. Our clerical class does its daily devotional reading, it chants its moralizing passages, it experiences incredible transfigurations. The newsfeed makes up the liturgical calendar. The stories are all deeper iterations of stories we know before. The culture writers can mark their middle-aged years by the appearance of the prep-school villain, the one with whom they are so intimately familiar.
Thanks to Rush Limbaugh for the kind words, once again.