Generational Warfare, Millennialists, "The New Politics", and The Youth Vote

First off, this is going to make me being the guy who wrote the last three diaries on here, and I don't like to appear as if I'm using TL as somewhere to bloviate, so please don't get that impression. I wanna write to you all today about something that's really important to me, and something I've watched unfold like a defected, diseased, disabled butterfly over the course of the last year or so, and I think it's important to note it in the public sphere, not only for feedback, but to try and centralize it as a concrete issue this election year.

We've all heard talk about what BTD calls "the vaunted youth vote", as we do every election, and we all know about Obama's overwhelming support amongst college-age kids and folks who are often referred to as "millennialists." I am one myself. I'm part of that 18-29 crowd, and I started out a very staunch supporter of Obama for many reasons that a lot of my peers did--the post-partisan message, the willingness to sit down with enemies without preconditions, and the expressed desire to build consensus and compromise, even if it means putting people in "the tent" that you wouldn't really even imagine being in "the tent" fifteen years ago.

I think this is something that's important to note from a historical perspective--what's happening to the Democratic Party, and the redefining of Democratic principles that a lot in the party are now warring against. 2008 has been characterized more than a humpteen billion times as "a sea change election," and they're right, it is. Should Obama win in November, it will represent the taking over of the party by the new generation, a generation that has a more obtuse and ambiguous agenda, and a generation that is not combative or stout in what they believe in, like their parents and grandparents who marched for what they wanted.

There are reasons for this phenomenon, but the main one is this: A lot of people my age, and in that "vaunted" age group from 18-29, have always known politics as a 51-49 sport. In our age of mass media, we're inundated with news programming, Internet ads and blogs, and articles in magazines that constantly place emphasis on the divide in our country. During the election of 2000, the first election many of us remember, we saw just how divided our country was. It was a practical 50-50 split, and 2004 wasn't much better. Follow that with the horrible term that Bush has led our country under in the last eight years under "the great divide", and it's easy to see why so many youth are hungry for consensus-building, post-partisanship, and to take away so much of the combativeness from politics that we've seen from the sixties to today, even if that means compromising on some issues we believe in. In the hearts of many youth, the real problem with our country is not on any particular issue--it's that we constantly fight and bicker about EVERYTHING in terms of politics--enough to tear apart friendships and families. We saw our parents become enraged because of the 2000 election, and were told (or at least I was), that since X neighbor was a Democrat/Republican, we couldn't be friends with them anymore, because they supported "the destruction of democracy" or because they supported "that sore loser." We didn't understand that, and we still don't.

Millennialists are the generation of compromise. And at some point or another, they are bound to take over the Democrat Party, which they have been registering in at a 2:1 margin since 2006--way up from the 50/50 split we saw throughout the nineties and into 2000. For a lot of the Millennialist generation, we long for a society where people compromise on things to get stuff done. We want to see a society where our parents aren't so combative and hostile, but rather acknowledge disagreements and hold civil debates about issues to enact 'change.'

This is what is so powerful about Obama to the younger generation. Not that he promises to fight for us, not that he has a particular issue that resonates with us, but just the opposite--that he's open to negotiating first, second, third, and fourth--and that he WON'T fight, but will rather come together with Republicans to actually... do something. The amorphous and ambiguous broadness of his candidacy appeals to us--not because we don't know what we want, or that we want to color what we want on his blank slate, but because we are attracted to a candidate that doesn't have specific, concrete ideas about a particular issue. To us, that represents closemindedness.

A second layer of this is seen in the smalltown/big city divide that we have seen in this primary. This doesn't just have to do with AA support for Obama, but also that the Millennialist movement originated in the urban areas. We dislike the characterization of smalltown America as the only part of America that is patriotic. To some of us, this makes us resent people in small towns and in the country, because for so long, we only hear that they're the only folks in America who matter. This is especially destructive with a generation who identifies more with New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Atlanta (and the multiculturalism that goes with it), as opposed to Scranton, Little Rock, or Tulsa. We are not "apple pie and Chevrolet" Americans. To us, Starbucks is more patriotic, and the English language holds no greater value than any other language--as a majority, we actually want to see bilingual education mandated and have no official language. We are an internationalist, multiculturalist, and technological generation. We can't imagine a time where we weren't able to talk to someone halfway around the world over the Internet at no delay. To many of us, humanism is more important than patriotism.

In any case, what we see in the Democratic Party right now is a bit of generational warfare. A battle between the "Fightin' Dems" of our parents and grandparents' generation, and the "Millennialists", the generation of Dems rising up now who loathe and abhor partisan bickering and want to see combativeness in both social and political issues end. In this race, I think that has had more of an impact than racism and sexism combined.

The things I have stated in this article are not necessarily true for all youth--I don't even subscribe to all of them, and there are older people who have the "Millennialist" mindset as well. I think it will be a really interesting piece of history to watch unfold. And I will be even more curious to see how my generation leads in America, especially if Barack Obama becomes President. An entire generation's way of thinking could either elevate itself to the rafters, or fall flat on its face. We'll just have to wait and see.

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    Well Thought Out Diary (none / 0) (#1)
    by flashman on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 02:51:42 PM EST
    First of all, I want to commend you on your commentary.  The diaries that are off the "front page" don't nearly get much attention here at Talk Left as they do on other blogs.  I wish that could change.  Just keep sharing, I'm not going to complain.

    Secondly, I want to point out that whatever great intentions the Millennialists started the campaign with was lost to the screeching, finger-pointing, race-baiting and plain old negative attacks from Obama's supporters.  I just don't see a 'new' kind of governance emerging from such an old form of campaigning.  Calling something new doesn't make it so, and 'slash and burn' campaigning is a very old political style.

    Maybe my attitude eminates from the fact that I'm an old man, nearing the first half-century of my life.  But every time I turn on the news to watch some sexist slangering Hillary, calling her disgraceful names or distorting her words to misrepresent who she is, or when I get called disgusting names on the "Obama" blogs for simply telling the truth about Ms. Clinton, what she said or did, then I completely fail to see the "compromise" or lack of combativness.  All I see is a contingement that shrills, shouts, calls names and throws tantrums till they get their way.  Their actions fail to match the rhetoric.

    But that's just this old man's opinion.

    I keep meaning to join you in the diaries (none / 0) (#2)
    by andgarden on Wed Jun 11, 2008 at 08:17:28 PM EST
    but haven't found to time to write anything substantial enough to qualify in a while.

    I am about your age, and I find myself in complete disagreement with you about the views of millenials towards partisanship. We are more partisan than our older gen X siblings, and perhaps as partisan as our grandparents, who voted for or lived under Franklin Roosevelt. Our registrations trend heavily Democratic, and we believe in the Democratic message.

    Honestly, post-partisanship was for the 1990s, and in my opinion Obama succeeds in SPITE of the "unity Shtick."

    Good Diary (none / 0) (#3)
    by CST on Thu Jun 12, 2008 at 01:57:23 PM EST
    I have been thinking about this a lot, and I see Obama as our generation's first "stamp" on politics and a bit of an attempt on our part to take over some of the power from our parents generation.

    Andgarden - I think we are more partisan than Gen X - who trended a bit republican but I think Dabler is referring more to the boomer generation.  The Gen X generation wasn't nearly as large in size as the boomers or us the millenials so their impact on politics is harder to gauge.  Also, I think the "partisan" you are referring to for our generation is more "anti-bush".  A lot of my friends consider themselves conservative/independant, but it's clear bush has seriously damaged the republican brand even to them.  However, I don't think they are necessarily "partisan" and don't like Dems that much either - just clearly the lesser of 2 evils.

    Well, ask "conservatives" under 30 (none / 0) (#4)
    by andgarden on Thu Jun 12, 2008 at 02:48:57 PM EST
    what they believe about the full panoply of issues, and you'll find that they mostly fit within the Democratic mainstream. The Republicans are going to have to completely remake themselves, I think, and the 1980s conservative revolution is about over.

    I think this (none / 0) (#5)
    by lilburro on Fri Jun 13, 2008 at 02:34:09 PM EST
    sounds right:

    "To us, Starbucks is more patriotic, and the English language holds no greater value than any other language--as a majority, we actually want to see bilingual education mandated and have no official language. We are an internationalist, multiculturalist, and technological generation. We can't imagine a time where we weren't able to talk to someone halfway around the world over the Internet at no delay. To many of us, humanism is more important than patriotism."

    I am part of this millennialist group.  I don't really think a desire for compromise defines us though.  I think of us more as a generation that has risen above the values battles of the 90s.  I don't think abortion and gay rights are lightning rod issues that voters are getting drawn into opposing anymore.  When I was 16 and in high school, the issues of gay adoption and gay marriage were absolute no-nos for conservatives my age.  That gays being parents was bad was actually entertained by many people.  Now, we see the sky hasn't fallen and it isn't such a big deal.  Rick Warren just invited gay parents to his church, I believe (in the NY Times this week, I think).  The Republican hold on American values is considerably weakened.  The set of issues we are thinking about now include the economy, the environment, and the war in Iraq and how the heck we get out.  These issues to me don't seem much for compromising - they are being liberally framed.  I think these are being seen as "we have to go left [liberal], or else."  I think we sort of have a liberal consensus, and the Obama loving media helps create that impression.

    Maybe young, inexperienced Obama is getting a lot of traction because we have a consensus?

    That we [liberals] are beyond having to constantly discuss why Roe v. Wade and gays AREN'T evil is one of the reasons Obama's well publicized evangelical outreach annoys me.  Secular issues are getting all the attention now.  Why Obama is at least partially refocusing the campaign on faith, I don't understand.  I think we could make a great push to get us all on the same page with these secular/liberal issues (economy, Iraq, healthcare).  We could have a secular, liberal language to describe them.  Going back to faith and having to justify everything in evangelical terms IMO, kinda sucks.

    Very interesting diary Dalton!

    Sounds Good (none / 0) (#6)
    by flashman on Mon Jun 16, 2008 at 01:12:56 PM EST
    Just make sure y'all get out and participate in November.

    Interesting diary, Dalton (none / 0) (#7)
    by JavaCityPal on Tue Jun 17, 2008 at 08:06:57 PM EST
    You know I think very highly of your ability to communicate. At least the half where you share your views. I wonder now if you are openly participating in the other half - listening.

    Not to me, and the other posters, but your candidate. How is he demonstrating his compromising skills? His political history shows he uses the path of destruction tactic on his opposition. Alice Palmer, Jack Ryan, Hillary Clinton have all been the victims of his "new rules" to politics. Nothing even similar to the forceable removal of Hillary Clinton from the race has happened in the democratic party.

    Now, he's got the nastiest, most fear-monger based ads against McCain, his stump speeches are laden with one slam against McCain after another, and today the DNC announced it is suing McCain for withdrawing from the public funding commitment he had made. Obama doesn't need to do any of this. He does it because it puts his opponents at such a grave disadvantage that he can win his competitions without having to prove his own worthiness.

    I understand your generation has a desire to see change, but when you make that at the expense of the people who have shaped your world, I wonder how clearly you are thinking. Your generation has decided to pick the least competent, and most hypocritical person available to achieve what it is you say you want for the country. He's no negotiator. It's his way or no way, and he'll do what he has to in order to take our those in his way.

    BTW - Both of my children are in the 18-29 year age group. One boy, one girl, both very bright, articulate and abundantly concerned about their futures. They see Obama as a threat to their security. They didn't buy into the rhetoric.

    Maybe the youth has 4 years to wait. Those of us who are nearing retirement really want the right person to manage the country as it is, not how you'd like it to be. We ARE caught up in severe problems in the middle east, we ARE in an economical mess, we ARE in need of UHC, and we really DO need someone who is experienced and capable of negotiating our position internationally after these past 8 years.

    Sure. (none / 0) (#8)
    by Dalton Hoffine on Tue Jun 17, 2008 at 08:25:33 PM EST
    And as for me, I don't necessarily buy into any of the "new politics" BS. Obama's a politician just like any other. And his tapping into the post-modern views of many of his younger constituents is no more than a political play for votes. I understand that.

    For me, I don't fault him for playing nasty and playing hardball. I sort of expect that from all politicians. I don't think he's sexist, or racist, but he tapped into that as a way to get votes. It's certainly not new politics, it's very, very old politics. I doubt that we would have politics without those sort of gross tactics. Maybe I'm just desensitized to it.

    My personal reasons for supporting Obama are my beliefs in the "community of nations" branch of foreign policy doctrine, his desire to rapidly advance multiculturalist curricula in schools, as well as a personal stance against mandates for health care. Under HRC's proposed plan, I would fall somewhere in the middle--too much income to be able to get a subsidy, but not enough to realistically pay even a cheap premium. Same with Obama's program, but I would feel a little... well, criminal, for not being able to afford to obey the law.


    I'm trusting you to be the new kind of politician, (none / 0) (#11)
    by JavaCityPal on Thu Jun 19, 2008 at 07:53:55 PM EST
    Dalton :)

    For those of us who have watched politician after politician tell us they are changing politics, we have learned to judge the size of the dream against the size of the person.

    Obama does not have the strength of character, or the political stamina to deliver. He talks in half-sentences, and keeps restarting. He weakens and backs down too fast. That speaks to his capability to stay focused and project his vision onto the others he needs to deliver.

    Who said, "you need to BE the change you want to see in the world"?

    Clinton could have delivered on more than 50% of her policies. The DNC didn't want her because there are too many of them in the pockets of the insurance and the pharma industries to get the support she needed. They knew she would not let up and they could end up losing their funding pipeline. There should be term limits for every single federal office.


    I Hate To Nitpick (none / 0) (#9)
    by Blue Jean on Tue Jun 17, 2008 at 08:44:35 PM EST
    a generation that has a more obtuse and ambiguous agenda,

    But is "obtuse" really the word you want?  Maybe "obscure" would work better, since the Millenials are untested, not dim witted.

    Thank you for your diary (none / 0) (#10)
    by applepie on Thu Jun 19, 2008 at 03:23:04 PM EST
    I am interested to read the viewpoints of the young people who are fueling so much excitement in this election.  It is encouraging to watch!  Thank you.

    Except where we aren't (none / 0) (#12)
    by Alec82 on Sat Jun 21, 2008 at 04:56:35 AM EST
    Yeah, great. We're globalized social liberals who prefer balanced budgets to tax cuts.  We're Democrats who can reconcile religion with X, Y and Z.  Great.

     But...executive power.  The growth of one branch of the government at the expense of two others.  To say nothing of what has become of the media.  I have seen little but hyperbole there.  The fact is that I will believe the shift, I guess, when we make it happen.  

     And even beyond that, the damage of the last two decades ensures rancor for the next two.  I suppose it is just a cycle, but there you have it.


    Dem Party Sea Change (none / 0) (#13)
    by VicfromOregon on Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 11:16:47 PM EST
    Well, now it makes sense to me - the rejection of a proven progressive politician and the zealous embracing of a relatively unknown agent with little, if any, actual leadership experience. If you see your political life beginning 8 years ago, then just about anything other than what has happened in that brief span of time will seem new.  And, anything that happened in that time will seem like the problem. But, in reality, party polarization ebbs and flows.  There are periods when both sides of the isle work in harmony while allowing the tensions to deepen certain creative processes and stymie others.

    It was the very well planned and executed takeover of Congress in 2002, whose roots were conceived and nurtured in the Reagan era that began this latest hatefest.

    I was interpreting Obama's proclamations to usher in a new way of doing politics as something akin to Gandhi.  I remained unsure, given his history and his past actions in Chicago as a full-time real estate and acquisitions lawyer and part-time State Senator, how he was actually going to pull that off. Now I see from your writing that he's really not going to do anything that new or different that hasn't been done many times before in this country.  Though, really, it will take Congress to bring about any significant change.

    And, as an aside, it was the politics of the 60's that helped bring equal rights, an end to legal discrimination on many fronts, environmental protections, an end to the Vietnam War, and the like.  The agitation of public and political bodies allowed sweeping changes to be made by the early 70's because of the struggles of the 60's. Nothing has equalled this politically progressive period for decades now, so I'm not sure what shortcomings you are referring to.

    And, finally, Obama's public assurance at AIPAC -that he would use "everything, everything within my power.  Everything.  Let me be clear.  Everything" - to address the issue of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, is not what I'd call "putting aside hostilities".  He wasn't referring to negotiating the heck out of each other.  He was letting his audience know he would use nuclear weapons against Iran to protect Israel.  Not even Hillary was willing to go that far.