We are the Millennials, the generation born from 1980 through 2000 — born in the last century, come of age in the new millennium. Millennials voted for Obama 60 percent to 36 percent over former Governor Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. The president captured an even larger share, 66 percent to 31 percent, in his 2008 win over Senator John McCain. What, in that case, does the Millennial generation have to do with the rebirth of the Grand Old Party, the party of Lincoln?
Younger generations almost always face criticism from older generations and the Millennial generation is no exception. Baby Boomers were lambasted as sexually permissive. Generation Xers were condemned as materialistic slackers. Psychiatrist and Fox News contributor Keith Ablow, who graduated from the School of Medicine in 1987, wrote earlier this year that Millennials are “deluded narcissists” who are “doing anything to distract themselves from the fact that they feel empty inside and unworthy.” Ouch.
The Ablow attitude was reflected in comments Romney made last month during an interview with, what do you know, Fox News. The former Republican presidential nominee failed to walk back — and reiterated the flawed logic of — his statement after the election that “gifts” by the president to young voters and minorities in the form of student loans and health insurance contributed to the Republican ticket’s defeat. (Romney disregarded the “gifts” he pledged to give the wealthy and seniors, of course.) In fact, it is not that difficult to connect the dots. The same people who think Millennials are self-centered and selfish think we voted overwhelmingly for Obama because he gave us “gifts.”
According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials are actually a far cry from the deluded narcissists whom grouchy old men make us out to be. Growing up with YouTube just a click away has not made us any more likely to say fame and fortune are important life goals. In fact, 86 percent of Millennials say fame is unimportant, just a tick down from 87 percent among older generations. On the flip side, 21 percent of Millennials outweigh 20 percent among older generations who say “helping others in need” is the most important thing in life. Millennials are also a bit more likely (52 percent to 50 percent) than members of older generations to say that “being a good parent” is their most important life goal.
The authors of the Pew study note that “while generations may have personalities, they are not monolithic.” Nevertheless, the authors ever-so-cautiously characterize the Millennial generation as “confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change.” Ablow and others on the far-right sweepingly call the Millennial generation bad names, not because the data backs up the “deluded narcissists” claim, but because they are afraid of a new America that is highly diverse (only six in ten Millennials are non-Hispanic whites), more likely to self-identify as liberal and tolerant, supportive of progressive social and economic policies, more politically active, and thoroughly optimistic despite the trials and tribulations of the Great Recession and its aftermath.
Millennials are who they are because of the times they have lived in. We are the children of the peaceful and prosperous Clinton-era, jolted out of childhood by black smoke over Manhattan, fear mongering on Capitol Hill and blood on the streets of Baghdad. We are the children of Dr. Seuss picture books and PBS’s “Arthur,” who watched their world get darker in lockstep with Harry Potter’s Hogwarts and The Dark Knight’s Gotham. We knew dial-up Internet and Windows 98 but now know LTE wireless broadband and Facebook. We are the teenagers of mismanagement at the White House and crashing markets on Wall Street who chanted “yes, we can” in 2008.
It is not that the political parties ought to pander to the whims of the youngest generation. It is that the Millennial generation knows what works and what doesn’t. And we are well-educated and well-connected enough to know what we want the future to look like.
The Republican Party is wandering aimlessly in the political wilderness. The Republican National Committee, in its “Growth and Opportunity Project” report, last month took the party to task for everything from poor “outreach” to young voters and minorities to use of outdated technology—everything, that is, except its policies.
The truth is the GOP hasn’t lost the popular vote in five out of the past six presidential elections because of faulty messaging. The Republican Party has lost and will lose in 2016 and beyond because its platform remains stale and its base remains nuts.
A recent Gallup poll found that the top criticism of the GOP is that the party is “too inflexible.” That is an understatement. The Republican Party will have to overcome intense, inherent intransigence if it wants to once again be a national political party.
The Millennials must build a new Republican Party, true to the legacy of Lincoln. We must build a new GOP that embraces civil rights and civil liberties with all of the vigor of the libertarian wing, works for a “smarter” federal government with the eye of a successful and socially responsible CEO (instead of seeking to “starve the beast” and deconstruct federalism), has a forceful but nuanced national security vision, acknowledges scientific facts and the role of faith, and proposes private-public solutions to the crises of climate change, health care, and so on.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, having an opposition party in tiptop shape is incredibly important for the well-being of the Democratic Party. More importantly, having an intelligent, energetic conservative movement is the key to solving the challenges of twenty-first century America. The question is, how long will the Millennial generation let the Republican Party wander?
Ben Schwartz is a freshman Public Health Studies and Economics double major from Pittsburgh, Pa. He is a staff writer for The News-Letter.