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March 4, 2004
How The Left Lost Younger Voters

Glenn Reynolds notes an article from Reason which reviews the new book from Danny Goldberg, Dispatches from the Culture Wars: How the Left Lost Teen Spirit. In the Reason review, David Weigel rightly skewers Goldberg's analysis that the problem is one of marketing instead of policy and Goldberg's insistence that musical tastes are particularly revealing of political philosophy:

Convinced of the righteousness and appeal of Democratic policies, Goldberg skips over whether those policies might be the problem. Instead, for him, its all about effective advertising. He believes that a majority, especially a majority of young people, will rally around, say, abortion rights, affirmative action, and soak-the-rich taxes as long as theyre slickly packaged via pop culture. Thus, Goldbergs Big Idea is a progressive reconquista of pop culture. Embrace Bill Clintons "boxers or briefs" MTV interview, and be irreverent. Join forces with the hip-hop stars whom Al Sharpton is taking for granted. Paint the other side as the heirs of crusty 1950s DJs who wouldnt play "black" music.

However, I also disagree somewhat with Weigel's implication that it's all about policy, too. Certainly policy is important, but more so, what opened the minds of younger voters to viewpoints other than those blasted at them by the entertainment industry? After all, we're not talking about a fringe movement; we're seeing a large shift in political alignment in the 18-34 demographic than we had twenty years ago, while the messages have remained fairly constant.

Two issues come to mind, one a specific event and the other a chronic condition. First, it is impossible to overestimate the impact that 9/11 had on this group of voters. They grew up on the ascendancy of moral relativism and internationalism, constantly fed the line that there was no such thing as evil in the world, only misunderstandings. To have that stripped away in one morning where 3,000 of your fellow citizens died, especially without a longer experience in life, is (rightfully) catastrophic to such thinking. Suddenly, this generation found out that there are enemies and they wanted to kill Americans in large numbers, and that a good portion of what they'd been taught was drizzly pap.

Second, the preceding generation -- the Boomers -- have to be the most self-involved, self-referential generation this country has ever produced. For the boomers, the Me Generation has never changed; they hold onto the Vietnam War as a touchstone from which they draw their power, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it's been over for thirty years and the resultant massacres proved them terribly wrong. This presidential campaign gives us great examples of this dynamic at work. Howard Dean, for instance, once described the 1960s as a period of unprecedented national unity that he wanted to recreate as President. Boomer-fed groups such as International ANSWER create protests with tired, retreaded slogans from the 1960s complete with the music of the day.

This relentless focus on their own youth as a mythical Golden Age, combined with their greedy, ever-increasing grasp on public resources in the form of expanding retirement entitlements must strike the younger generation as ridiculous and tiresome. Even younger boomers such as myself wonder when my ge-ge-ge-generation will finally realize that they are not the center of the universe. In this environment, the Beatles and Tipper Gore are irrelevant, except as reminders of how narcissistic boomers remain. It may not be enough, on its own, to mold their political philosophy, but it's certainly enough for them to open their minds to other possibilities.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers! I suspect that Glenn may be right in his analysis of my post.

UPDATE II: Another big welcome for readers of the Volokh Conspiracy, and thanks to Randy for linking to my post. Randy, obviously, is quite accurate in calling this a "rant".

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 4, 2004 11:26 AM

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» Who owns the "youth vote"? from Secure Liberty
A convergence of events has driven this story to the lead today. First, the Kerry daughters were booed at the MTV music awards. Is Kerry wildly popular with anyone? No. But boos? Next Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit links to a Newsweek article a... [Read More]

Tracked on August 30, 2004 4:24 PM

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