Thursday, April 22, 2004

Talkin' bout my generation

Another match of the always entertaining generation game breaks out.

In the left corner, wearing the blue-state trunks, Matthew "The Judeo-Cuban Juggernaut" Yglesias! And in the right corner, wearing the red-state trunks, Ben "The Dominator" Domenech!


The Dominator comes out swinging and swinging hard! But the Juggernaut bobs, weaves and dances and the Dominator's blows just glance off him. The Juggernaut takes advantage of the Dominator's overextension with some jabs and crosses. That only seems to infuriate the Dominator, who comes right back at the Juggernaut! But the Juggernaut keeps well-covered and the Dominator spends himself on nothing but glove and forearm. Wow, the Dominator is really going after a knockout! If he's not too careful, he'll exhaust himself early. And it looks like that's exactly what's happening! The Dominator is having trouble keeping his gloves up and the Juggernaut uses a jab to open that window right up, following up with a combination! It looks like the Juggernaut opened a cut over the Dominator's eye...


The fight is over! The fight is over! The decision goes to...The Juggernaut on points! The Juggernaut wins on points!

Every sentence of Yglesias' initial post but one notes support for Kerry among the young, which Domenech doesn't address at all. Domenech's post smacks of the conservative victimhood narrative that somehow managed to outlast the Reagan Administration.1 (Conservatives who bitch about their ostracism at the hands of a predominantly liberal society are the last people who should be complaining about others being "stuck in the 60s". And they certainly shouldn't be trying to rehabilitate Joe McCarthy's reputation.) Domenech holds tight to any possible indications of conservatism among "millennials" as signs of his imminent deliverance from this libertine purgatory.

Though putatively on Domenech's side, Goldberg (no, not that Goldberg) pulls a classic Clinton triangulation.
Matt Yglesias draws much comfort from some data showing that college kids lean Democratic. That's fine. But he erects something of a strawman by saying that "There's been a campaign under way for several years now to convince the world that young people in general, and college students in particular, are a bunch of Bush-loving rightwingers." I'm sure some folks have been involved in what Yglesias calls "myth-making" but on the whole I think he misses the real effort and the real argument. The twofold argument I've been hearing from conservatives in recent years (inlcuding from me) is that the left's generations-long myth making about the inherently progressive nature of "the youth" is a bunch of bunk. And Yglesias' preferred numbers demonstrate that ably. Kerry leads Bush among college kids by 48-38 and does even better among likely voters. Okay. But more than a third of college kids don't like Kerry. And, I'll not only bet you those numbers will improve in Bush's favor as they are "soft" but I'll also bet that most of these numbers are personality driven rather than ideology driven.

Second, the trend conservatives have been noting is that the students are to the right of the professors -- which I think is undoubtedly true. I would also bet that they are even further to the right of the administrators. The fact that support for Nader is declining among college students further illustrates that the liberal babyboomers' solopsistic B.S. about college kids being inherently radical is so much wishful thinking.

I'd also add that college kids are increasingly libertarian these days. Whether that holds over time remains to be seen since collegiate libertarianism is often (but not always) based in a desire to be cool and rebellious against the right and the left. But, it's certainly true that a libertarian, principled or otherwise, could go either way between Bush and Kerry2

Look, I have a long track-record of disdain for "youth" oriented politics of all kinds, but if Yglesias is basically putting a cheery spin on both a trend and a revelation that does not help the left. Sure, it's a myth that college kids are all Burkeans today. But I don't know anyone who ever said they were. I do know lots of people who've said and believe that being young is synonymous with being liberal, or "progressive". And that's bunk, and largely always has been.
Like Domenech, Goldberg makes a lot of hay (or should that be "straw"?) out of Yglesias' opening sentence, but at least acknowledges Yglesias' case, if still failing to refute it.

Goldberg is correct to note that students are to the right of the professors - which Yglesias himself notes - but how difficult is that, really? Goldberg disputes the "the inherently progressive nature of 'the youth;'" I would like to distinguish that from youth's inherently rebellious nature, which I believe still holds.

What are they rebelling against?, you might ask.

Whaddya got?

What they got, as I've argued before, is a generation of teachers and parents who exercised largely progressive attitudes. Any Marxist (or other Hegelian) worth his salt will tell you that every thesis has its antithesis.

1The conservative victimhood narrative survives for the same reason that all victimhood narratives survive. Though one's victim status may be only temporary, the usefulness of victim status lasts forever. Persecution arrogates to victims the unquestioned moral authority to disparage enemies with impunity. This is so valuable that people take advantage of it even if the only person one has convinced of one's victimhood is oneself (see: Coulter, Ann). Moreover, when your enemies call attention to your own record of persecuting others, you can dismiss those accusations safe in the knowledge that they are yet another example of your ongoing victimization (see: Israeli treatment of Palestinians, Hindu treatment of Muslims, Muslim treatment of Hindus, Muslim treatment of Zoroastrians, Muslim treatment of animists...

2All this talk about South Park libertarians on the one hand and millennial authoritarians on the other really brings to the forefront the differences between libertarians and social conservatives. Can the American Right keep the two stitched together, at least among the young? If I were a libertarian in this era of GOP spending hikes, steel tariffs, opposition to gay marriage, the FCC going after nipples and swearing and the USA PATRIOT Act, I'd feel a more than little taken-for-granted.

UPDATE: Yglesias refines his position from, There's been a campaign under way for several years now to convince the world that young people in general, and college students in particular, are a bunch of Bush-loving rightwingers to, There's a kind of myth out there that the young people nowadays are libertarian, apparently in response to Jonah Goldberg. Young people have grown up with a generation of progressive hegemony in education, but they also went through the no less ideological Reagan Administration. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that "millennials" will rebel against the constraints of both those legacies.

UPDATE: The Dominator has brought to my attention that there is no link to this Juggernaut post key to the debate. And you don't contradict guys nicknamed Dominator. Well, maybe if you gave them that nickname in the first place...