Reck­on­ing with gen­er­a­tion gap

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - OPINION - Jonah Gold­berg The Na­tional Re­view Jonah Gold­berg is an ed­i­torat-large of Na­tional Re­view On­line.

The con­ven­tional im­age of baby boomer po­lit­i­cal re­bel­lion fea­tures a young left-wing ac­tivist or­ga­niz­ing, protest­ing or oth­er­wise ag­i­tat­ing, ide­ally with Buf­falo Spring­field’s “For What It’s Worth’’ play­ing in the back­ground: “There’s some­thing happening here / What it is ain’t ex­actly clear ...’’

This gauzy ver­sion of youth pol­i­tics, born in the ro­man­ti­ciza­tion of the 1960s, is near and dear to Hol­ly­wood, academia and Democrats alike.

When Howard Dean, as pure an ex­am­ple of a baby boomer lib­eral as there is, seemed poised to win his party’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in 2003, he re­called what it was like in 1969, the year he turned 21 (and I was born). It was “a time of great hope,’’ Dean said. “Medi­care had passed. Head Start had passed. The Civil Rights Act, the Vot­ing Rights Act.’’ He went on: “We felt like we were all in it to­gether, that we all had re­spon­si­bil­ity for this coun­try.’’

Dean’s nos­tal­gia erased memories of race ri­ots, an­ti­war protests, do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism and the af­ter­math of var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal as­sas­si­na­tions, in­clud­ing what were then the re­cent mur­ders of Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. As his­to­rian Steven Hayward notes in his book “The Age of Rea­gan,’’ in the first six months of 1969, “there were nearly a hun­dred bombings, at­tempted bombings, or acts of ar­son on col­lege cam­puses.’’

Young peo­ple un­der­stand that some of the things old peo­ple see as “po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness’’ aren’t nec­es­sar­ily the prod­uct of a Marx­ist virus ...

Also left out of this con­ven­tional nar­ra­tive: con­ser­va­tive youth pol­i­tics.

Young Amer­i­cans for Free­dom, the group that groomed and gal­va­nized a gen­er­a­tion of con­ser­va­tive lead­ers, is­sued its man­i­festo, the Sharon State­ment, on Sept. 11, 1960. The left-wing group Stu­dents for a Demo­cratic So­ci­ety re­leased its far more fa­mous Port Huron State­ment two years later.

SDS was the more suc­cess­ful or­ga­ni­za­tion, cul­tur­ally if not po­lit­i­cally.

This was in part be­cause SDS had the sym­pa­thy of the press, but also be­cause it had the more ex­cit­ing story. They weren’t merely rebels; they were in re­volt against their own side. The SDSers had a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent view of pol­i­tics than older lib­er­als.

Mean­while, the young con­ser­va­tives took their march­ing orders from the grown-ups, like Wil­liam F. Buck­ley and M. Stan­ton Evans. The Sharon State­ment de­rived its name from the lo­ca­tion of YAF’s first meet­ing: Buck­ley’s home in Sharon, Conn. The man­i­festo, writ­ten by Evans, clocked in at 368 words. The Port Huron State­ment ram­bled on for more than 50 pages.

This dis­par­ity can be ex­plained both philo­soph­i­cally and so­ci­o­log­i­cally.

The young con­ser­va­tives hailed from more blue-col­lar back­grounds, and they self­con­sciously aligned them­selves with eter­nal truths and the wis­dom of the ancients. The young lib­er­als, who tended to be the chil­dren of elites, sought to rein­vent the wheel, re­ject­ing not just the ancients but also the gen­er­a­tion that came be­fore them.

Ever since, young con­ser­va­tives have been in­clined to take cues from their el­ders. But that seems to be chang­ing.

In the cur­rent is­sue of the Weekly Stan­dard, Ben Shapiro has a fas­ci­nat­ing es­say on the pro­found di­vide be­tween young and old on the right.

Older con­ser­va­tives are al­most unan­i­mous in their sup­port of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency. Mean­while, a stag­ger­ing 82 per­cent of Repub­li­can and Repub­li­can-lean­ing 18- to 24-year-olds want Trump to be chal­lenged for the nom­i­na­tion in 2020, while 74 per­cent of Repub­li­cans over 65 don’t.

Siz­able ma­jori­ties of GOP vot­ers be­tween the ages of 24 and 44 also want a pri­mary chal­lenge.

Shapiro ar­gues per­sua­sively that young con­ser­va­tives care about char­ac­ter and val­ues, while older ones have largely aban­doned such con­cerns, pre­fer­ring solid pol­icy vic­to­ries and per­ceived wins in the war on po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness.

What ex­plains the op­pos­ing vi­sions? Part of it, Shapiro writes, is the usual ten­dency of young peo­ple to grav­i­tate to­ward lib­er­tar­i­an­ism and ide­al­ism.

But there’s an­other rea­son: Young peo­ple un­der­stand that some of the things old peo­ple see as “po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness’’ aren’t nec­es­sar­ily the prod­uct of a Marx­ist virus that some­how es­caped a lab­o­ra­tory at Berke­ley. Some of it re­flects an at­tempt to craft de­cent manners in the in­creas­ingly di­verse and egal­i­tar­ian so­ci­ety that young peo­ple ac­tu­ally live in.

It may be time to play some Buf­falo Spring­field, be­cause there is some­thing happening here.

As poll­ster Kris­ten Soltis An­der­son notes, also in the Stan­dard, the GOP has a grave prob­lem with younger vot­ers in part be­cause it is al­most wholly de­pen­dent on white vot­ers, and white Amer­i­cans rep­re­sent an ever-shrink­ing slice of the youth vote, which will only be­come more im­por­tant as the baby boomers throw off this mor­tal coil.

If the GOP has any hope of win­ning over non-con­ser­va­tive younger vot­ers, it will be be­cause young con­ser­va­tives con­tinue to break with their tra­di­tional role as du­ti­ful sol­diers for their move­ment’s el­ders.

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