Some lefties looking for some signs of hope have a lot pinned to the victory of Bill de Blasio in the New York City Democratic mayoral primary. Admittedly, it is positive that a more progressive candidate prevailed, but first, de Blasio is hardly now the new mayor of New York City just because he won the Democratic primary, and second, a strong lefty winning the primaries in the very Democratic blue American Northeast hardly heralds a left-wing Democratic wave across the country.
Nevertheless, Peter Beinart sees, in this article for the blog site The Daily Beast, a generationally-based wave coming, and is willing to concede that de Blasio’s victory in the primaries may be a first glimpse of it.
His argument, essentially, is that the current generation is so accustomed to lack of economic opportunity (really not just because of the Great Recession since 2007, but also because of a flat wages situation ever since Reagan wrought his changes on the country in the 1980s)…and because of this, it is a generation that will increasingly be willing to vote for candidates who fight for the economically disadvantaged.
I am persuaded that at least one part of the current rising generations (Generation Y or The Millennials, or whatever we’re calling them nowadays) will probably do just what Beinart is suggesting. Whether or not Bill de Blasio is the first herald of such a development or not is somewhat beside the point – that probably is indeed on the way, and the more the youngest generation acts within the electoral politics arenas, that is fully what I expect to see.
However – and the other shoe really does need to drop here – I am also persuaded that many people in that generation will be lost to the siren calls of an anti-government philosophy. In 2010, the younger generation could have saved the biscuits of a Democratic administration that was pushing hard for them, and against fierce and powerful opposition – particularly where the subject of health care is concerned – but it sat on its hands and refused to vote. Indeed, voting is hardly popular with the current young generations, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect a lot more of _that_ kind of thing to continue to be seen in the future as well.
Generations may have similar attitudes, but they also reflect significant cleavages. We can talk about The Greatest Generation of FDR’s time, which did so much to change the world…but really a lot of those same people became the Silent Generation of Eisenhower and Nixon, and those who paved the way for Reagan. We can also talk about the Baby Boomers and how they protested for civil rights and against the Vietnam War, but a lot of the enthusiasm for the crazy deregulation of the 1980s and 1990s also came from them.
In short, both of those “great generations” contained at least a few individuals happy to make their accommodations with reactionary conservatism. I think the current one probably will also.
It’s clear the Millennials have their good side and bad side as well. The good side sees how vastly unjust the economic system of their country and the world have become, and insists upon change. The bad side finds every reason in the book not to shoulder any of the responsibility for making that change happen, finding conspiracies of evil politicians everywhere as an excuse to do nothing save complain.
I also appreciated Beinart’s identification of the political dynamic of the period from the 1980s onwards as being between an anti-government conservative Reagan Republicanism and a Clintonian post-liberal Democratic view determined not to be seen as pro-government. The present economic crisis was created by both of these currents – Reaganites principally, but Clintonians as well for being so insistent on going along for the ride and declaring the “era of big government over”. Though so many bend over backwards to ignore that this was the case – this was exactly the case. For the past two decades, we have lived in a world where the political choices were Republican-heavy duty and Republican-lite.
All of this influences my perception of the narrative of the youngest generations.
I’m with that generation if its members say “We’ve spent decades ignoring galloping economic inequality in our society – Barack Obama tried to do something about it, but he’s been confronted by obstruction at every turn, and his record has therefore been disappointing, so we have to show we can do better, and defeat the Republicans on an even stronger, more transformative agenda than even Obama was willing to fight to enact.”
But I expect at least a few people will pipe up with an explanation like “Barack Obama is just a politician and politicians have failed us”. (Never mind that the people who say this routinely fail to identify either Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton as the politicians who failed them, even though they are the politicians who _constructed_ the system that has been causing the pain they’ve been experiencing.)
This generation, like so many that preceded it, contains many who are unable to imagine a government that protects and defends, rather than invades and disrupts. Yet, government has been for the most part the only force that can offer much in the way of protection and defence, unless the anti-government types have some decentralised new means of promoting common social needs that bypasses government entirely (and if they do, I’d love to see it – seriously, consider that a challenge…if I’m wrong about that, I’d love to have cause to admit it).
Many in the current rising generations have shown anti-governmentalism to be their only real cause, despite the unlikelihood that non-governmental solutions will correct their current economic problems. At least as much space should be devoted to that reality in the blogosphere.
But congratulations to Bill de Blasio. Here’s hoping he is part of the beginning of _some_ kind of a positive wave. I’m hoping the nomination of Elizabeth Warren as the next Democratic nominee for President will be the next one.