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The new New Left, the Millennial generation, and the Death of Reaganite-Clintonism

In Section: Moral Hazard » Posted By: David DeWitt

If Peter Beinert is correct, if the Millennials are poised to usher in a new era of left politics, it can't come quickly enough.

Nothing could illustrate that more clearly than President Barack Obama's fall from a beacon of hope for the anti-establishment as a candidate, to as establishment as it can get as a Democratic president.

I know first-hand my generation's revulsion toward Reaganomics and Clintonian triangulation.

I also know well, and love, our social and cultural tolerance. In fact, it often extends beyond tolerance and into all-out embrace.

I've seen student loan debt and the consequences of the grifter economy cripple more than a few friends economically.

I've watched strident international militarism and costly, extended war campaigns shove more than a few friends through the armed services meat grinder, literally all of them coming out on the other end much worse for the wear.

I've seen precious little run-away success from my peers, and a whole helluva lot of scraping by.

I saw a story from one of the major glossies not too long ago that went something like, "Millennials shunning traditions like buying cars and houses."

The story made it seem like Millennials largely don't want to buy cars and houses. In reality, Millennials largely cannot afford cars and houses.

I know that growing up in this environment delivers political consequences. I'm less strident than Beinert on what I think those consequences may be.

But I know that he's right when he writes, "Compared to their Reagan-Clinton generation elders, Millennials are entering adulthood in an America where government provides much less economic security. And their economic experience in this newly deregulated America has been horrendous."

He provides a lot of impressive statistics to back his conclusions up.

To wit:

• "Between 1989 and 2000, when younger members of the Reagan-Clinton generation were entering the job market, inflation-adjusted wages for recent college graduates rose almost 11 percent, and wages for recent high school graduates rose 12 percent. Between 2000 and 2012, it was the reverse. Inflation-adjusted wages dropped 13 percent among recent high school graduates and 8 percent among recent graduates of college."

• "The percentage of recent college graduates with employer-provided health care… dropped by half between 1989 and 2011."

• "By 2009, the net worth of households headed by someone over 65 was 47 times the net worth of households headed by someone under 35, almost five times the margin that existed in 1984."

• "Nationally, the share of households owing student debt doubled between 1989 and 2010, and the average amount of debt per household tripled, to $26,000."

• "Forty percent of Millennials are racial or ethnic minorities. Less than half say religion is "very important" to their lives."

• "According to a 2010 Pew survey, whites under the age of 30 were more than 50 points more likely than whites over 65 to say they were comfortable with someone in their family marrying someone of another ethnicity or race. A 2011 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that almost 50 percent of evangelicals under the age of 30 back gay marriage."

• "Millennials are close to half as likely as the Reagan-Clinton generation to accept sacrificing civil liberties in the fight against terrorism and much less likely to say the best way to fight terrorism is through military force."

• "In 2010, Pew found that two-thirds of Millennials favored a bigger government with more services over a cheaper one with fewer services, a margin 25 points above the rest of the population."

• "While large majorities of older and middle-aged Americans favored repealing Obamacare in late 2012, Millennials favored expanding it, by 17 points. Millennials are substantially more pro-labor union than the population at large."

And, finally, the coup de grace:

• "According to a 2011 Pew study, Americans under 30 are the only segment of the population to describe themselves as, 'have nots,' rather than, 'haves.' They are far more likely than older Americans to say that business enjoys more control over their lives than government. And unlike older Americans, who favor capitalism over socialism by roughly 25 points, Millennials, narrowly, favor socialism."

While I know that Beinert's characterization of my generation's economic experience as "horrendous" is correct, I hope that he is further correct when he writes, "It is these two factors - their economic hardship in an age of limited government protection and their resistance to right-wing cultural populism - that best explain why on economic issues, Millennials lean so far left."

But what I wonder over is the large number of Millennials who describe themselves as "libertarian," and it makes me question Beinert's conclusions.

Beinert correctly notes, about my generation coming up in an age of economic hardship and foreign interventionism, "This experience has not produced a common generational outlook. No such thing ever exists."

And I believe he is correct that Millennials "are unlikely to play out their political conflicts between the yard lines Reagan and Clinton set out."

He gets closer to where the stakes are being set out when he talks about the work of Senator Elizabeth Warren, on the left.

But he may underestimate the contingent of Millennials who seem more interested in aligning themselves with the stakes being set out by the family Paul, for instance, on the right—in other words, the emergence of Libertarianism among the young.

And when that is taken into account, though there is notable overlap on ideas of foreign policy and personal liberty, the economic lines in the sand begin to look eerily familiar: Those who want to gut the government and its role in social engineering, and those who see that the government can be a line of protection against destitution and corporate victimization.

But the victory, even in that, would be a repudiation of hypocrisy on both sides: The Reaganite hypocrisy of advocating so-called small government while promoting militarism and intrusion into personal lives and the Clintonian hypocrisy of playing economic populism while advancing crony capitalism.

So while I don't see some sort of left-based consensus emerging, I think as a generation we Millennials could all cheer an end to those obscenities.

Find Senior Writer David DeWitt on Facebook and Follow on Twitter @TheRevDeWitt.

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