Our Stalingrad Moment

 

More than anything, I was struck last night by the generational aspect of the President’s address. Sorry, young people: galvanizing the under-30 set makes great campaign material, but now it’s all about helping the aged. You heard it in the feel-your-pain reference to the bygone era of local factory jobs. You heard it in the human-interest stories of heroically repurposed near-retirement-age businessfolk. Above all, you heard it in the surrealistically repurposed Sputnik Moment, which became in Obama’s hands a way to get older Americans to imagine that the reliable, stable world of their past was actually a cavalcade of personal reinvention and societal reeducation.

Young Americans? To the extent that we heard anything, we heard that our future is cut and dried: science and math education, because that’s what they do in China; a career as a scientist, an engineer, or a science and math teacher, because in South Korea those people are celebrated as “nation builders;” a lifetime of work spent in an economy propped up by spending, subsidies, and a perpetual partnership between big government and big business.

Cheer up, kids. You’re the ones you’ve been waiting for. Remember?

Which generation’s Sputnik moment is this, again? If we’re fated to work with metaphors from the middle of the twentieth century, let’s at least choose one that resonates with people who are coming of age in the twenty-first.

Say, perhaps, the Hitler Finds Out metaphor. From the vantage of the young, for the President — and, indeed, virtually the entire leadership class of the United States of America — this is their Stalingrad moment: the moment at which the vast armies they continue to maneuver around the gigantic battle map turn out to be gone, destroyed, never to return again. The bold challenges, the arbitrary and random numerical goalposts (80% more of these, 100,000 more of those) — it all gave off the disconnected feel of denial-driven fantasy. It’s not that the emperor has no clothes. It’s that he has no divisions.

Young Americans already face a future defined by an inescapable reckoning. They already tend to look at our grand entitlements as phantoms, as dead entitlements walking. They already know the problem isn’t that we have too few college graduates, but that we — like Tunisia and (gasp!) China, to mention a few — have too many for the market to absorb. And they already know that all the science and math in the world can’t serve to nourish our personal and cultural convictions about the purpose and character of American life in transformed times.

When will Obama’s generation reckon with that?

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Members have made 25 comments.

  1. Profile photo of Busy System Admin Member

    Obama is stuck in a very unenviable position.  He can’t win one way or the other, because the current situation was already set in motion over several generations.

    That’s not to exonerate him.  So far his approach seems to be, well, since we’re going down anyways, why not go down in style.  Pedal to the metal!

    I highly suggest reading up on generational theory and generational dynamics to understand the much larger picture of where we are.  Even a full-on Tea Party president and Congress wouldn’t be able to do much more than slow the oncoming crisis.

    The good news (if you want to think of it that way) is that we’ll survive, somehow, and may come out stronger after the crisis passes.  And, it is during these times of crisis that we have the most influence on future events.  The decisions we make during and after the crisis will set the course for the next few generations, in a way which they themselves will be largely unable to change.

    So, we live in interesting and consequential times.

    • #1
    • January 26, 2011 at 10:01 am
  2. Profile photo of Rob Long Founder

    So, James, why is he so popular with the very demographic he’s busy impoverishing? Where are the young people to wage this generational war? They’re all busy pinning Obama ’12 buttons on, it seems to me. If you’re right about the direction of things — and I think you are — when, how, where, and who in the younger generation is going to gin up the courage to say anything? To let this president know that about 80% of the “investments” he talked about last night are direct theft from their future paychecks?

    • #2
    • January 26, 2011 at 10:12 am
  3. Profile photo of Diane Ellis Contributor

    Rob Long: So, James, why is he so popular with the very demographic he’s busy impoverishing? Where are the young people to wage this generational war? They’re all busy pinning Obama ’12 buttons on, it seems to me. If you’re right about the direction of things — and I think you are — when, how, where, and who in the younger generation is going to gin up the courage to say anything? To let this president know that about 80% of the “investments” he talked about last night are direct theft from their future paychecks? · Jan 26 at 9:12am

    I don’t think he is especially popular with the young anymore.  I don’t have a poll to point to, but we’ve seen a plethora of articles describing the disillusioned youth who expected a more tangible “hope and change.”  My purely anecdotal evidence suggests that folks in my own demographic are more than a little bit embarrassed about having been so enthusiastic about him in 2008.

    • #3
    • January 26, 2011 at 10:23 am
  4. Profile photo of Kennedy Smith Inactive

     It was gut-wrenching when Hitler found out about the Olbermann firing.  For all you children out there behind the screens, Sputnik is the name of the Tuscon Sheriff.

    The whole speech was a holding pattern and a defensive posture.  Take initiative, young freshmen.

    • #4
    • January 26, 2011 at 10:28 am
  5. Profile photo of Kennedy Smith Inactive
    Diane Ellis, Ed.

    ]My purely anecdotal evidence suggests that folks in my own demographic are more than a little bit embarrassed about having been so enthusiastic about him in 2008. · Jan 26 at 9:23am

    My own beloved sister (Cleopatra Licentia Smith) would agree with you.  Obama was the first vote she ever cast, and, well, lesson learned.

    • #5
    • January 26, 2011 at 10:30 am
  6. Profile photo of Katie O Member
    Rob Long: So, James, why is he so popular with the very demographic he’s busy impoverishing? 

    It doesn’t matter what he says, so long as he sings with inflection. 

    • #6
    • January 26, 2011 at 10:31 am
  7. Profile photo of Katie O Member
    Kennedy Smith

    Diane Ellis, Ed.

    ]My purely anecdotal evidence suggests that folks in my own demographic are more than a little bit embarrassed about having been so enthusiastic about him in 2008. · Jan 26 at 9:23am

    My own beloved sister (Cleopatra Licentia Smith) would agree with you.  Obama was the first vote she ever cast, and, well, lesson learned. · Jan 26 at 9:30am

    Same here Kennedy. I think having their first vote count toward the historical moment of electing the first African American President was a big part of the equation.

    • #7
    • January 26, 2011 at 10:39 am
  8. Profile photo of EJHill Member
    Rob Long: So, James, why is he so popular with the very demographic he’s busy impoverishing?
    Diane Ellis, Ed.  … we’ve seen a plethora of articles describing the disillusioned youth who expected a more tangible “hope and change.”

    First, young people have no concept of wealth creation. My parents were “depression” babies born in the mid-1920’s and boy did they let you know how good you had it. To this generation, their parents’ hardship tales usually start with “And we had to guess where the song started on those cassettes, baby!”

    Secondly, I think there was a hard core group of lefties that believed Obama would enforce his vision à la Chavez and that all of us in the Party of No would realize that the jig was up and we’d all slink away. They didn’t believe in the slightest that two short years later that would become the Party of Hell, No! and so many independents would join us in opposition.

    Try Googling the phrase “vote against their own interest.” It’s a fantasyland of hatred. They understand wanting eternal adolescence. They don’t understand concepts of real liberty.

    • #8
    • January 26, 2011 at 10:40 am
  9. Profile photo of EJHill Member
    Kennedy Smith:   For all you children out there behind the screens, Sputnik is the name of the Tuscon Sheriff.

    Sputniks are not to be confused with the Skutniks. And the Skutniks are very vital to a State of the Union speech and have been since the father of all Skutniks in 1982.

    (Mistyped the name. Corrected now.)

    • #9
    • January 26, 2011 at 10:50 am
  10. Profile photo of Standfast Inactive
    Kennedy Smith:  … Sputnik is the name of the Tuscon Sheriff.

    Jan 26 at 9:28am

    Thats the funniest thing I’ve read in a couple of weeks.  By the way, is “Sputnik” still beeping on and on across the airwaves?

    • #10
    • January 26, 2011 at 10:52 am
  11. Profile photo of Stuart Creque Member

    James, you have to call it the “Downfall Moment.”  The clip from Downfall isn’t when Hitler found out about the failure of the siege of Stalingrad — it’s when he found out that he no longer had armies to defend Berlin.

    There’s a sort of historical analogy for the American middle class today: in 2008, we found out that we might not have jobs, and by 2010, we found out that we might not even get to keep our homes.

    For the generation that includes my three daughters — a recent college grad, a college junior and a high-school junior — the two-step is, Stalingrad is finding out that there might not be money for college without taking out big student loans, and the Downfall is finding out that there aren’t any jobs for new grads to pay off their student loans.

    • #11
    • January 26, 2011 at 11:48 am
  12. Profile photo of James Poulos Contributor
    James Poulos Post author
    Stuart Creque: James, you have to call it the “Downfall Moment.”  The clip from Downfall isn’t when Hitler found out about the failure of the siege of Stalingrad — it’s when he found out that he no longer had armies to defend Berlin.

    There’s a sort of historical analogy for the American middle class today: in 2008, we found out that we might not have jobs, and by 2010, we found out that we might not even get to keep our homes.

    For the generation that includes my three daughters — a recent college grad, a college junior and a high-school junior — the two-step is, Stalingrad is finding out that there might not be money for college without taking out big student loans, and the Downfall is finding out that there aren’t any jobs for new grads to pay off their student loans. · Jan 26 at 10:48am

    That’s right, Stuart. Going with Stalingrad was supposed to convey my ebullient optimism.

    • #12
    • January 26, 2011 at 11:55 am
  13. Profile photo of Patrick in Albuquerque Inactive

     You ask: “When will Obama’s generation reckon with that?”

    My answer: Nevahhh! Their little minds will remain forever incapable of wrapping around the truth that their policies cooked the golden goose.

    • #13
    • January 26, 2011 at 11:57 am
  14. Profile photo of Johanna Egan Inactive

    I’m twenty-eight years old, so I guess that makes me part of “Obama’s generation.”  I have no plans to benefit in any way from Social Security or Medicare.  When Paul Ryan talks about changes to these programs, I welcome his ideas.  My mostly liberal group of friends, however do not spend any time thinking about the national debt, Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare, etc.  Meanwhile, they wonder why their health insurance premiums are rising.  I think that most of them voted for Obama on the mantra “Bush bad. Obama good.”  The decision was that simple, and if the Republicans don’t nominate someone who can cut through the glossy shine Obama tries to put on his policies, they will vote for him again.

    • #14
    • January 27, 2011 at 1:00 am
  15. Profile photo of Kenneth Inactive

    Young voters have, for the most part, never produced anything, never been significantly taxed, never come up against the regulatory Leviathan.  They have, for the most part, lived off someone else’ labor and had everything handed to them.  So, of course, Obama’s socialist agenda resonates – it’s all they’ve ever known. 

    Repeal child labor laws and levy income taxes from the very first dollar and they might change their airy political thinking.

    • #15
    • January 27, 2011 at 2:21 am
  16. Profile photo of Aaron Miller Member

    James, remember that our generation waits until later to get married, on average, and has fewer children. That must factor in somehow with political awakening.

    Also, there’s the question of whether our generation is more or less likely to seek change through government or apart from it. Part of one’s “faith in the system” includes faith that the system is capable of self-repair. Many people I know remain content to generally ignore politics because they feel utterly excluded from the process. Every two years we vote, and the behemoth rolls on.

    • #16
    • January 27, 2011 at 2:50 am
  17. Profile photo of Joseph Eagar Member

    Oh come on.  Plenty of us young people are well aware of what’s being done to us.

    I believe people in my generation voted for Obama because he was cool, and black.  I voted for McCain, but I admit I did like Obama for a while (until he started treating American citizens like two-year-olds).

    I think it’s sinking in to my generation: we won’t have the standard of living the boomers had, unless we work really, really, really hard.  But no politician represents us; they’re all terrified of the boomer population and the elderly.

    • #17
    • January 27, 2011 at 2:59 am
  18. Profile photo of raycon and lindacon Member
    Joseph Eagar: I think it’s sinking in to my generation: we won’t have the standard of living the boomers had, unless we work really, really, really hard.  But no politician represents us; they’re all terrified of the boomer population and the elderly. · Jan 26 at 1:59pm

    As a pre-boomer, I can say that it was us and the boomers and those who followed us, and the politicians we elected, who learned from FDR that we can borrow ourselves to prosperity.  Of course, there would never come a reckoning, at least in our lifetimes.  As for our progeny, we never did care that much what would be left for them (you).

    As one of those who spent a lifetime of political frustration, watching it all happen with no meaningful political alternatives, realize that your frustration at your circumstances isn’t much greater than ours.

    I feel your pain.

    • #18
    • January 27, 2011 at 4:53 am
  19. Profile photo of James Poulos Contributor
    James Poulos Post author
    Rob Long: So, James, why is he so popular with the very demographic he’s busy impoverishing? Where are the young people to wage this generational war? They’re all busy pinning Obama ’12 buttons on, it seems to me. If you’re right about the direction of things — and I think you are — when, how, where, and who in the younger generation is going to gin up the courage to say anything? To let this president know that about 80% of the “investments” he talked about last night are direct theft from their future paychecks? · Jan 26 at 9:12am

    It’s tempting to embrace the theory that the young voted for Obama because he’s Obama. But we also need to consider that the root problem is the fact that the young are in the habit of voting reflexively, almost instinctively, against Republicans. What will change that? Ball’s in our court.

    • #19
    • January 27, 2011 at 5:24 am
  20. Profile photo of K T Cat Inactive

    I can’t wait for Steiner to come and save us.  When he shows up with a few trillion in his pockets, things will stabilize and we’ll get back on track.

    • #20
    • January 27, 2011 at 5:43 am
  21. Profile photo of Johanna Egan Inactive

     Speaking for myself, if someone would have asked me five years ago the difference between a Repulican and a Democrat, I wouldn’t have had an answer.  My allegiance to the Republican Pary originated from its pro-life stance on abortion.  It wasn’t until the past few years that I began educating myself on the core philosophical differences between the two parties. 

    This philosophical difference is what I think many young people don’t understand. A friend of mine, who is gay, said to me that she is not very happy with the Democrats, but she thinks she has a better chance with them.  I just sort looked at her sideways, and thought to myself, “What about the economy?  What about your own individual freedom?”  The Republicans need to redefine the arguement for young people, and get away from which party cares more, or which party is more open-minded.  Why don’t they try subjects like individual freedom and how a limited govt. protects that?

    • #21
    • January 27, 2011 at 6:13 am
  22. Profile photo of Yeah...ok. Member
    Johanna Egan: I’m twenty-eight years old, so I guess that makes me part of “Obama’s generation.”  I have no plans to benefit in any way from Social Security or Medicare.  When Paul Ryan talks about changes to these programs, I welcome his ideas.  My mostly liberal group of friends, however do not spend any time thinking about the national debt, Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare, etc.  Meanwhile, they wonder why their health insurance premiums are rising.  I think that most of them voted for Obama on the mantra “Bush bad. Obama good.”  The decision was that simple, and if the Republicans don’t nominate someone who can cut through the glossy shine Obama tries to put on his policies, they will vote for him again. · Jan 26 at 12:00pm

    I suspect no one can know. But why do you believe you and your friends do not reach the same conclusions? National debt vis-a-vis SS & Medicare is very elementary, little “thinking” involved. How can they not see what we see or how is it we do not know what they know?

    I’m over 30 years older than you. Is critical thinking a vanishing concept?

    • #22
    • January 27, 2011 at 8:43 am
  23. Profile photo of Stuart Creque Member
    James Poulos, Ed.

    That’s right, Stuart. Going with Stalingrad was supposed to convey my ebullient optimism. · Jan 26 at 10:55am

    Ah – I thought it meant you were an Al Stewart fan.

    • #23
    • January 27, 2011 at 12:55 pm
  24. Profile photo of Johanna Egan Inactive

     I suspect that I am more informed than my friends, when it comes to politics.  I’m sure they’ve never turned on Mark Levin or Rush Limbaugh.  I don’t think they’ve ever heard the conservative arguement on any issue except through the liberal filter of college professors and their peers.  This is not to say that if they listened to talk radio or read more newspapers that they would reach the same conclusions that we do here on Ricochet.

    Just to reassure myself, I went to the same friend I mentioned before and asked her to how she defines Democrats and Republicans.  She simply said, “I think my honest answer is that the democrats seem to be more liberal and republicans tend to be more conservative.”  When I asked her to define ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’, she said that she defined them in terms of being open-minded, and anti-change, respectively.  She went on to talk about the “common-good”, but couldn’t define it.

    I don’t think critical thinking is a vanishing concept; we just have to find a way to make people do it.

    • #24
    • January 28, 2011 at 1:51 am
  25. Profile photo of Franco Member

    Mark Steyn guest-hosting for Rush, mentioned this post yesterday in case you didn’t know. Cheers!

    • #25
    • January 29, 2011 at 6:16 am