Down but not out, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and his “revolution” rumble on. His supporters, many of them college and university students, continue to oppose his surrender to presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton. Facing this reality, the Democratic Party elite is furious and panicked in equal measure.
So they should be.
After all, these elites have long treated Millennials as mindless voters: Americans to be brought under the whip of Democratic Party special interests (three big ones analyzed here) via occasional celebrity concerts.
But then Bernie Sanders turned up. He offered a listening ear, genuine passion for the future of young Americans and such a distinct lack of charisma that he actually became cool. Bernie’s banner rose. Prisoners to their own delusion, the liberal elite rejected the reality of Bernie’s momentum, fueling him further. This elite arrogance was summed up best by feminist dinosaur Gloria Steinem, who told HBO host Bill Maher that Sanders’s female supporters only were there to meet “boys.” Even Hillary Clinton got in on the act. Instead of humility in the face of Bernie’s enthusiastic base, Clinton remarked, “I feel sorry sometimes, for the young people who, you know, believe this.”
Regardless, the dissection of young voters from the Democratic Party elite is not a cause for conservative celebration. Though Clinton is in trouble with Millennials, Republican candidates rarely fare better (see Trump’s historically bad unfavorable rating amongst this group). Correspondingly, instead of laughing at the liberal squabbling, conservatives should energize our efforts to earn the respect of young Americans who currently ignore us.
Instead of laughing at the liberal squabbling, conservatives should energize our efforts to earn the respect of young Americans who currently ignore us
First, we should recognize why young Americans are dissatisfied with Clinton. It’s the status quo, stupid! In other words, the Obama administration’s economic record is a tale of rhetoric versus reality. Labor participation has plummeted to crisis levels and American economic doubt is resolute. And while President Obama’s labor secretary happily accepts that many of those without work are inherently “f#k ups,” young Americans without jobs see their struggles a little differently. As an extension, Clinton’s stunning dishonesty gels well with President Obama’s claims that he is an economic miracle worker.
Next, as Opportunity Lives has outlined, conservatives must offer a compelling, inclusive vision for America’s future. That vision must be policy specific and intellectually robust. And it must include a realist foreign policy vision to improve global stability and reduce the risk of war.
Specifically, conservatives must respond to the key concerns affecting Millennials. First, we must offer health care reform that covers pre-existing conditions, but avoids Obamacare’s wealth transfer from the young to the middle-aged. Second, recognizing the rise of economic populism from the left and alternative right, we must articulate why free trade saves each American family thousands of dollars a year, and strengthens the economy for the future. Moreover, we must articulate the false economic justice in forcing a bus driver, or builder, or busboy who did not attend college, to pay taxes to subsidize the lifetime of greater earning potential of those at college. In doing so, we can show why socialism isn’t fair. But we’ll also need to make hard choices in confronting conservative cronyism and increasing social mobility. And we’ll need to challenge foreign governments that benefit greatly from American medical advances and security guarantees without reciprocity. At the core of these policy proposals must be our sustaining commitment to economic opportunity for all Americans.
Still, as Jillian Melchior explains, earning the support of young Americans also requires challenging Democrats in their traditional policy heartlands. A good template here is Republican Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who is making progress with his effort to legalize over-the-counter birth control. Such efforts serve young women and the market economy in mutual benefit.
But they also offer a policy-focused response to Democratic scare tactics, in this case, disputing the supposed conservative “war on women.” Signifying her fear of this kind of Republican evolution, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.) now openly laments “complacent” young women with regard to abortion politics. The lesson: against credible conservative policy, the liberal elite can resort only to a strategy of arrogant anger.
Let’s be clear: the policies of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders would be catastrophic for young people. But at present, young people are far more likely to vote for either of those candidates than for any conservative. We thus have a moral and political responsibility not to sit idle. Forsaking easy choices and embracing bold action amidst ongoing failures, we must earn the confidence of young Americans in the pursuit of opportunity-defined ambitions.
Tom Rogan is a Senior Contributor for Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.