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Democrats—especially Barack Obama himself—make an effort to spur young people to join a “movement.” Republicans, in contrast, hardly give a thought to energizing American youth, apparently operating under the entitled impression that young voters will vote Republican because it is their only rational option. Case in point: the Obamacare enrollment issue.
In December, reeling from surprising unpopularity among millennials, Obama returned to his trademark pied-piper “movement” rhetoric, likening healthcare policy to women’s suffrage and the civil rights crusade. You mustn’t get discouraged when you’re out to change the world, Obama said, because “change” and leadership take time and hard work! It’s a clever angle because young voters are easily seduced by two things which ordinarily would appear in tension: altruism and self-importance.
Young people want to make the world a better place. But we also want to be rewarded (or at least acknowledged) for our agency in making that difference, to stroke our proud yearning to be heard and even needed by our elders. Is it much of a shock that youth enrollment in Obamacare now has increased to around 25% of all enrollees — enough to stop the death spiral? I realize the current numbers still are not impressive, but the fact of this upward trajectory suggests Obama is making inroads. It is even less surprising when you note the lackluster effort by Republicans since December to make that Harvard IOP poll much more than a blip on the “movement” radar.
Republicans gloated about Obama’s “meltdown” among young people who were supposed to be realizing, finally, the stupidity of liberal policies. Not so fast.
The Obamacare mandate insults the intelligence of young people; it is against our rational preferences, and it undermines our dignity and freedoms. But youth’s key role in Obamacare’s success makes it an issue ripe for for igniting our political passions—Obamacare professes to be a revolutionary change for the greater good of the country and young people indeed play an integral part in its success.
Today, Republicans on the Hill tried to make the worst out of the enrollment turnaround, continuing to peddle unimaginative, lazy rhetoric. The talking point: “it’s no surprise” that young people don’t like Obamacare . . . because it’s bad for them. Mitch McConnell’s spokesman: “After seeing massive premium increases and failed bureaucracy in the Obama administration, it’s no wonder they are staying away.” John Boehner’s spokesman: “When they see that Obamacare offers high costs for limited access to doctors . . . it’s no surprise that young people aren’t rushing to sign up.” What a positive vision! Republicans are unsurprised that young people are not stupid.
Still, young people, like so many other voters, are not rational. Precisely because we think we will live forever, we don’t care about runaway deficits that will bankrupt our country. Once the website’s hassle is fixed and a glamorous marketing campaign convinces enough of us that we’re “making a difference” or joining a “movement” (fine print: by signing away our freedoms and burdening ourselves with bureaucracy and expenses), we’ll gladly help. Did Republicans really think that an Atari-esque website, easily mended by Google Democrats, would signal a generational shift in political support?
Republicans need to begin to consider ways to articulate a new “movement” rhetoric that can energize voters, especially young people. The individual liberty+strong defense+personal responsibility mantra feels as stale as a 1994 Krispy Kreme doughnut. And liberty! liberty! liberty!—the rallying cry of the Tea Party—comes across as selfish and mean in most of its Republican iterations.
We millenials are a sentimental bunch.”Greed is good” and “don’t be stupid” messaging tends not to persuade sentimental people. Expecting Democrats to bungle bureaucratic packaging is also a weak strategy—bureaucracy will only appear more humane as technology gets better and Silicon Valley luminaries remain liberal. I wish young people would stay away from Obamacare exchanges, but it would not surprise me if, between the laziness of Republican outreach and our youth’s self-deluded idealism, they fall in line and march toward the progressive mothership.
Then again, don’t we conservatives have an idealism—a greater good—to profess in a positive (and even sentimental) light?