Charles Krauthammer is leading the conservative gloating about the Affordable Care Act as the death of the modern progressive movement, but Peter Beinhart argues that conservatives are on the wrong side of a generational shift. (More)

“The defining story of America’s next political era”

The ACA’s early difficulties have dominated the news for the past two weeks, and conservatives like Charles Krauthammer are framing it in terms of the left’s last chance:

At stake, however, is more than the fate of one presidency or of the current Democratic majority in the Senate. At stake is the new, more ambitious, social-democratic brand of American liberalism introduced by Obama, of which Obamacare is both symbol and concrete embodiment.

Yet in a long and well-sourced article this week at The Daily Beast, Peter Beinhart sees an entirely different drama unfolding, with actors that Krauthammer and other conservatives overlook:

Maybe Bill de Blasio got lucky. Maybe he only won because he cut a sweet ad featuring his biracial son. Or because his rivals were either spectacularly boring, spectacularly pathological, or running for Michael Bloomberg’s fourth term. But I don’t think so. The deeper you look, the stronger the evidence that de Blasio’s victory is an omen of what may become the defining story of America’s next political era: the challenge, to both parties, from the left. It’s a challenge Hillary Clinton should start worrying about now.

“Events that occur between their late teens and mid-twenties”

To understand Beinhart’s argument, we must set aside the conventional concept of roughly two-decade generations and think in terms defining political events:

By “political generation,” I mean something particular. Pollsters slice Americans into generations at roughly 20-year intervals: Baby Boomers (born mid-1940s to mid-1960s); Generation X (mid-1960s to early 1980s); Millennials (early 1980s to 2000). But politically, these distinctions are arbitrary. To understand what constitutes a political generation, it makes more sense to follow the definition laid out by the early-20th-century sociologist Karl Mannheim. For Mannheim, generations were born from historical disruption. As he argued – and later scholars have confirmed – people are disproportionately influenced by events that occur between their late teens and mid-twenties. During that period – between the time they leave their parents’ home and the time they create a stable home of their own – individuals are most prone to change cities, religions, political parties, brands of toothpaste. After that, lifestyles and attitudes calcify. For Mannheim, what defined a generation was the particular slice of history people experienced during those plastic years. A generation had no set length. A new one could emerge “every year, every thirty, every hundred.” What mattered was whether the events people experienced while at their most malleable were sufficiently different from those experienced by people older or younger than themselves.

“This newly deregulated America has been horrendous”

For Millennials, Beinhart argues, the worldview-defining events have been failures of Reagan conservatism – the Iraq War and especially the Great Recession:

America’s youngest adults are called “Millennials” because the 21st century was dawning as they entered their plastic years. Coming of age in the 21st century is of no inherent political significance. But this calendric shift has coincided with a genuine historical disruption. 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. This experience has not produced a common generational outlook. No such thing ever exists. But it is producing a distinct intragenerational argument, one that does not respect the ideological boundaries to which Americans have become accustomed. The Millennials are unlikely to play out their political conflicts between the yard lines Reagan and Clinton set out.

As Beinhart writes, Millennials came of age amidst skyrocketing college costs and an ever-fraying social safety net. Unemployment is higher among Millennials than for older adults, and jobs offer both stagnant wages and fewer benefits. The percentage of college graduates with employer-provided health care fell by half from 1989-2011. Employee pensions have all but disappeared, and the 2008 economic collapse left Millennials with little confidence in private plans like 401(k)s.

“Cherished American myths about capitalism and class”

The result is a growing bloc of voters who are not only more diverse and inclusive than the Reagan generation, but also less trusting of unfettered capitalism to provide broad prosperity:

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.
[…]
Most striking of all, Millennials are more willing than their elders to challenge cherished American myths about capitalism and class. 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.

“Suffering the Great Recession’s aftershocks for decades”

Krauthammer and other conservatives may believe that today’s liberals will age into tomorrow’s conservatives, but the data don’t support that nostrum:

There is more reason to believe these attitudes will persist as Millennials age than to believe they will change. For starters, the liberalism of Millennials cannot be explained merely by the fact that they are young, because young Americans have not always been liberal. In recent years, polls have shown young Americans to be the segment of the population most supportive of government-run health care. But in 1978, they were the least supportive. In the last two elections, young Americans voted heavily for Obama. But in 1984 and 1988, Americans under 30 voted Republican for president.
[…]
The economic circumstances that have pushed Millennials left are also unlikely to change dramatically anytime soon. A 2010 study by Yale economist Lisa Kahn found that even 17 years later, people who had entered the workforce during a recession still earned 10 percent less than those who entered when the economy was strong. In other words, even if the economy booms tomorrow, Millennials will still be suffering the Great Recession’s aftershocks for decades.

Krauthammer and conservatives may believe the ACA’s early glitches will negate a decade of Millennials’ life-shaping experience, and that a younger GOP candidate who listens to the right music can convert them to conservatism in 2016. But the more likely story, as Beinhart writes, is that both Democrats and Republicans will have to move to the left to win Millennials’ votes.

Millennials will increasingly dominate the electorate … leaving Krauthammer on the wrong side of history.

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Happy Saturday! ::hugggggs::