What can we say about America’s “Millennial” generation, aka “Generation Next” – that group of men and women, born between 1980 and 2000, which has begun to flex its muscle in the national discourse?
Depending on who’s doing the looking, it’s a generation full of brio – or simply full of beans.
According to this 2010 analysis by the Pew Research Center, America’s youngest voting bloc is “confident, connected, open to change”. That’s not the conclusion reached by the good folks at Time, which just this past May blistered Gen Next as the “me, me generation” – in Time’swords, “lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow” and plagued by a “narcissistic personality disorder.”
If the outsiders are confused, consider the view from within the Millennial herd.
On the one hand, should you belong to that particular age demographic, you arrived amidst an era of remarkable progress in science and technology – advancements that promise greater longevity and connectivity. And, because you now outnumber Boomers (Americans born from 1946 to 1964), you can have your way in elections and public referenda – just ask Barack Obama – if you bother to turn out in force, which you did in 2008 and 2012.
On the other hand, life will be an upstream swim. Millennial unemployment is mired in double digits; the average student loan is triple what it was 20 years ago (over $28,000). And there’s the question of where Social Security, Medicare and pension guarantees all will be 30 years from now, when Gen Nexters segue into retirement.
Such challenges call for leadership – a guiding light.
And that light, as chosen by Pivot, a new TV channel launching this week with an audience of “passionate Millennials” in mind: Meghan McCain, daughter of the 2008 Republican nominee and media provocateur extraordinaire.
Beginning Sept. 14, “Raising McCain” will give its 28-year-old hostess one hour of nationwide air time to showcase herself – and I’m quoting the press release – “on the road talking to unexpected experts, everyday people and members of her generation, exploring the most important and unusual questions of the day framed by Meghan’s experiences in her personal life. The series will explore topics ranging from bullying and feminism to sex overload and the death of romance, among many others.”
All valid topics, mind you, but is Meghan McCain the ideal voice for her generation?
This is, after all, a woman who’s already authored two books which were, if you can bear reading them, more about her than her father’s failed campaign – or what bugs her most about politics (here are some instances of “tmi” that prompted The Washington Post to dub Ms. McCain a “professional oversharer”).
Granted video soapboxes on MSNBC and The Daily Beast(her hiring at the former prompting Gawker to snark that MSNBC had gone from “Lean Forward to “Lean Stupid”), Ms. McCain’s contribution to punditry has included such bon mots as “I’d never sleep with my biographer”, “I’ve hated Karl Rove when I was, like, 14 years old” and “You’ve got to love Americans like me, which are the tattooed ones and the crazy ones that are drinking and the ones that, you know, go outside and maybe get arrested.”
Add dust-ups with the likes of Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham and Glenn Beck – plus a few other mini-controversies such as Tweeting cleavage-centric photos and ditching a book-tour appearance in Pennsylvania for a girlfriend outing in Las Vegas – and we don’t need the Internet for this match: the “me, me generation” and a young woman’s world that’s all about her, her.
Perhaps Ms. McCain will prove cynics wrong and succeeds, as she’s put it, “to be some sort of middle ground between the Kardashians and C-SPAN”. But that doesn’t begin to address the gaping maw that is leadership for this ascending generation.
That’s true of Congress, America’s political gerontocracy (youthful California’s U.S. Senators being well into their 70s, for example). The House’s youngest members? That would be Illinois Rep. Aaron Shock (turned 32 in May), perhaps known best for baring his ripped abs, and Florida Rep. Patrick Murphy (turned 30 in March), who was hauled in for disorderly intoxication during his college days (thus fulfilling Meghan McCain’s vision of going out and running afoul of the law).
In the U.S. Senate, the youngest member is Connecticut’s newly elected Chris Murphy (he turns 40 next weekend), whose biggest splash so far is trying to get Fox to drop coverage of a NASCAR race sponsored by the National Rifle Association. America’s youngest governor? That would be South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, head of a state that battles all types of negative stereotypes that aren’t exactly America’s youthful ideal.
Now let’s look a little down the road, to the 2016 presidential election.
Last fall, President Obama won two-thirds of the nation’s youth vote, including at least 61% in decisive Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia (a combined 80 electoral votes). According to a CIRCLE study, Mitt Romney would have flipped those states had he split that vote – in doing so, winning the election with 286 electoral votes.
Assuming Obama’s heir has the same “in” the youth crowd, that beneficiary could be Hillary Clinton (she turns 69 two weeks before Election Day) or Joe Biden (he’ll turn 74 two weeks after the election). Obama, born at the tail end of the Boomer generation, was 47 and 51 in his presidential runs. The generation gap may explain why, despite exit-interview promises to lay low for a while, the former Secretary of State quickly established a Twitter account – hip avatar and all.
Is there a Republican opening in the millennial bloc? Perhaps Great Britain offers as clue, as it did in the early 1990s when Tony Blair’s Labor moderation served as a precursor to Bill Clinton’s Democratic triangulating back in the U.S.
According to polling data in the U.K., British Gen Nexters are progressive on such matters as gender equality and same-sex rights, but more conservative than their elders on the welfare state. They tilt right in the argument over “skivers vs. strivers”.
Facing a general election in May 2015, David Cameron’s success in communicating with his country’s twenty- and thirty-something voters could provide a case study for Republicans running the following year – a lesson in how to accommodate differences in social policy with common ground over the course and scope of government. If Cameron can divide the generational divide, perhaps the GOP can import the formula and put it to work in those wing states that eluded Romney.
A formula that won’t probably will not include road trips with Meghan McCain.
Follow Bill Whalen on Twitter: @hooverwhalen