We always knew something was wrong, those of who had to endure liberal baby boomers preaching at us from the padded pulpits of tenured professorships.
Xers like myself knew instinctively that the wide-eyed idealism of the sixties was more likely inspired by a drug haze than a realistic view of the world. We realized that disarming to give peace a chance is a good way to get mugged, and that free love might promote better understanding between people, but it is a sure way to contract AIDS.
Tenured radicals would have us believe that Generation X are politically apathetic but partial to Democrats. They have used the 96′ presidential election as the best index of Xer attitudes and behavior, when only 30 percent of eligible 18 to 24 year olds voted, and of those, 54 percent voted for Bill Clinton, while only 30 percent voted for Bob Dole.
Yet the opposite may actually be true: There is substantial evidence that Xers are highly politically savvy and that they exhibit a strong conservative streak. Moreover, Xer conservatives like myself, “Cappuccino Conservatives,” are likely to help put an incrementalist, pragmatic stamp on politics in the coming decades.
No one doubts that Xers are more politically alienated than your average Kafka protagonist. Professor Frederick P. Hitz recently observed in The Washington Post that 68 percent of individuals between 18 and 34 years old feel distant from the federal government. He points out, “Over the past 40 years, there’s been a marked decline in respect for the federal government, accompanied by a steep downturn in the number of talented young people choosing public service as a career.”
Of course, Xers may avoid government work for economic reasons. After all, many government jobs pay less than those in the private sector, and Xers may be the first generation in American history to have lower lifetime earnings than those of their parents. Besides, according to at least one survey, Xers believe they are more likely to see a UFO than a Social Security check, and for good reason. Mark Weinberger argues in his book “Social Security, Facing the Facts,” that without reform, baby boomer retirement will bankrupt Social Security long before Xers receive a dime. Ditto for Medicare. Dan L. Cripen, Director of the Congressional Budget Office, estimated that as baby boomers retire, Medicare expenditures will double in size. And as Ted Halstead observed in a 1999 article in Atlantic Monthly, Xers, “already carry more personal debt than did any other generation at their age in our nation’s history.”
Perhaps for that reason, many Xers are investing in the stock market. According to a recent Zogby survey, 12 percent of 18-29 year olds own stock, and according to a study by the Cato Institute, between 1989 and 1995, stock ownership increased by 65 percent in households headed by individuals under 35.
Such surveys have also demonstrated that those who invest tend to become more conservative: They almost have to, since successful investors usually operate incrementally, and even dot coms must eventually bow to the bottom line, no matter what their initial intentions are.
In Atlantic Monthly, Ted Halstead opined, “If Xers have any ideology, it is surely pragmatism.” A likely reason that most Xers seem to be more suspicious of government than Moulder and Scully is that they value results over intentions. They know, better than any of their baby boomer counterparts, that political results can only be achieved painfully and incrementally, and they are savvy enough to know that the political process works badly, when it works at all. They have only to look at the high-flown projects of baby boomers, such as the War on Poverty, which crashed in an ocean of ineptitude and corruption while creating waves of social chaos.
Cynical Xers know instinctively that politicians will continue to act like politicians, regardless of what they claim to believe or who they claim to represent. They would agree with Pennsylvania Sen. Simon Cameron’s observation that, “An honest politician who when he is bought will stay bought.”
Instead, Xers have turned to another idea – acting locally, to work on projects which produce concrete results. Halstead submits, “There is considerable evidence to suggest that volunteerism and unconventional forms of political participation have increased among young adults. Local voluntary activities, demonstrations, and boycotts all seem to be on the rise within their ranks.” Halstead points to Xer co-founder of Who Cares magazine Heather McLeod, who said, “We can see the impact when we volunteer. We know the difference is real.’” A 1996 survey of 250,000 college freshmen by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies found that nearly 72 percent claimed to have participated in volunteer work in the previous year, a 31 year high. Fred Hargadon, Princeton’s dean of Undergraduate admissions, observed to Professor Hitz that incoming Princeton freshmen aspire to positions that seem to be above politics, such as Supreme Court Justice, or those in which they would see the results of their policies, such as town mayor.
So how will “Cappuccino Conservatives” fare when we inherit the heavy robes of political power? Probably better than the baby boomers. After all, it took them 10 years to lose the Vietnam War, while it took us a little over 100 hours to win in the Persian Gulf. Plus, many boomers still have not acknowledged how badly they will drain the federal coffers, while we have been expecting it, and planning for it, for years.
In the end, the legacy of Generation X will likely resemble our pragmatic philosophy. We may not have attempted to save the world, but we will leave behind a more stable and practical country – perhaps too practical for most boomers to appreciate. At the very least, it will be a world in which we have paid off our student loans (even if our Visa bills are still in the troposphere), we are living in our own homes, and we each own a good cappuccino machine.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire