I’ve been pondering the problem of how the Republicans might attract more young voters this year. Everyone knows by now that the young have cooled on Barack Obama since the 2008 election, as well they might. Unemployment and looming debts are an unhappy combination, especially if you happen to be young. Even so, the Millennials are not yet flocking to the GOP. Conservatives are still searching for a message that will truly bring the newest generation of voters out of its progressivist funk.
For conservatives, appealing to young voters is always hard. Though not necessarily unintelligent, they tend to be simpletons. They crave ideological clarity, and are too inexperienced to appreciate that many conservative arguments are complex and nuanced precisely because the world is complex and nuanced. They shy away from hard truths. On top of that, Millennials have been thoroughly habituated to trust in institutions. It is counterintuitive for them to consider that, in a crisis, more government is not always the answer.
So, it’s a hard problem. Nevertheless, I think I may have come up with the right slogan for the 2012 election: “You shouldn’t have to pay for your parents’ mistakes.” This message simultaneously promotes the Republican party’s agenda and reminds us of Obama’s failures. It has the kind of easy-to-find moralistic bottom line that young people like. And really, is it ever that hard to persuade the young that their parents are screw-ups?
Of course, like all slogans, this one is deceptive in some ways. The reality is that we do all have to pay for our forbears’ mistakes to one degree or another, even as we enjoy the fruits of their triumphs. Still, I don’t think this message is too irresponsible as such things go. Let the Republicans portray themselves as liberators, balancing budgets and lifting regulations as a means to unshackling the young from the burdens of the past. Emphasize that we trust them to use these freedoms to build a better future. Of course, they may not actually succeed in doing so. But the fact is that when we tell our children that “they are the future”, this is not really starry-eyed optimism. It’s a truth hard enough for any conservative.