Peter Beinart has written a very long essay arguing that the victory of Bill de Blasio in the New York Democratic mayoral primary is a sign that real change is coming to our national politics. Beinart thinks an older generation accepted the parameters set by Ronald Reagan and implicitly endorsed by Bill Clinton, both of whom took their parties rightward. Millennials, Beinart argues, are more tolerant of racial and sexual minorities, more dovish, and more inclined to back government intervention in the economy -- and the economy's failures in their adult lives have made them want more than what hard-right Republicans and "New Democrats" are offering them.
Beinart ultimately concludes that this means the 2016 Democratic presidential contest could be blown wide open by a truly progressive candidate, such as Elizabeth Warren.
I think he may have a point about Millennials and their dissatisfaction with having to operate within the boundaries set in the Reagan-to-Clinton era -- boundaries Barack Obama also seems to be operating within. I'd go further and say that this isn't just limited to Millennials. Note this result from a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll:
Americans continue to overwhelmingly dislike and distrust Wall Street five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing financial crisis, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.This is miles to the left of both political parties. And this is across the entire population -- it's not limited to one generation. (By the way, de Blasio didn't just win among Millennials -- in fact, exit polls show that he did somewhat better among older voters.)
Forty two percent said they have a negative view of the New York financial institutions while just 14 percent have a favorable opinion. The remainder of respondents had either a neutral view or no opinion. That is the lowest rating of any institution included in the poll. In comparison, 45 percent view President Barack Obama favorably while 25 percent expressed the same about the Tea Party.
The antipathy remains high despite record gains in the Dow Jones Industrial Average of more than 15,000 points, which is 3,000 points above than where it was when the market began its decline in 2008.
But if we think Millennials in particular will want to push American politics left, we have to ask: What happens if the political system never yields the politicians they want? What happens if the system never improves their lives?
There's no reason to believe that Elizabeth Warren is actually running for president in 2016 -- unlike the Ted Cruzes and Rand Pauls, she's not popping up every few weeks in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina. Yes, someone else with her views may emerge -- but what if the apparent champions of Millennial-style progressivism talk a good game but operate within the old parameters? Isn't that pretty much what Barack Obama has done?
I honestly don't think the economic powers that be will ever allow Millennials to live as comfortably as their elders -- the rich want more and more, they feel they're entitled to more, and they're simply not going to permit the political system, which they run, to reduce ever-increasing economic inequality.
I really believe that that kind of change will happen only under the threat of violence, as in the early labor movement. Is that what Millennials will turn to if the political system lets them down?
Maybe, but I doubt it -- we haven't had a real wave of political violence in this country for forty years, and we're not seeing one now, here or in the vast majority of the First World, despite plenty of reasons to be angry. More likely, the Millennials will just give up on politics (hell, if they stay left-leaning, the GOP will probably find ways to keep them from voting throughout their lives).
Maybe they'll turn to Alex Jones crackpottery, or its "respectable" counterpart, Rand Paul-ism. Or maybe they'll just conclude that the system is binary, and if things suck you may as well vote for the party that's not in charge, jut to get some kind of change. Elsewhere in that NBC/WSJ poll:
The Republican Party is gaining a public-opinion edge on several key issues ahead of the 2014 elections, as Americans question President Barack Obama's leadership on Syria and worry about the country's overall direction, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows.It should be noted that the GOP's numbers are up from very a low point, and are still quite low -- but they're up. And yes, this across the entire population, of all ages.
Republicans are now rated higher than Democrats on handling the economy and foreign policy, and the GOP's lead has strengthened on several other issues, including dealing with the federal deficit and ensuring a strong national defense.
On topics such as health care, Democrats have seen their long-standing advantage whittled to lows not seen in years.
Why shouldn't we assume that Millennials will just fall into this same futile pattern? The only real alternative might be heading out into the streets.