How Are the Kids?
9:29 AM, Aug 29, 2012 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
When Pete Townsend entered the phrase in the lexicon in 1965 he was talking about, and to, the Baby Boomers. And as it has turned out, this view was somewhat Pollyanna-ish. The kids of the Baby Boom generation have grown up to wreck the entitlement system, the institution of marriage, the popular culture, America, and a goodly part of western civilization. So far.
And their children are just now grappling with how they’re going to clean up their parents’ mess.
That’s what the group Young Invincibles is all about. Like other super groups—the Teen Titans, for instance, or the Young Avengers—they have a great origin story. They were created by Obamacare. As their website explains, “Young Invincibles grew up in a law school cafeteria in Washington, DC, after co-founders Ari Matusiak, Aaron Smith, and a few friends realized that young people’s voices were not being heard in the health care debate.” Now the group is all grown up and making its voice heard with an “Intergenerational Roundtable” in Tampa to talk about the tough issues facing Millennials today. It’s not a heartening discussion.
The Young Invincibles have assembled eleven expert voices to discuss the challenges facing young voters. They have a small business owner, a college student, a poli-sci professor, three political activists and five community organizers. Or maybe it’s five political activists and three community organizers. It’s hard to say. What they don’t have is a Republican. Go figure.
In any event, they’re a polite, well put-together bunch. No nose rings; no dreadlocks. They’re earnest and they’re engaged. They’re live-tweeting the event. They promise that after the discussion they’ll take questions both from the audience and from the world, via Twitter.
You will, perhaps, be unsurprised that the Young Invincibles locate the education system as being responsible for a goodly portion of what’s wrong with America. For instance, on the subject of secondary education several panelists worry about how cuts in spending are going to effect class mobility. It’s a sign of where they’re coming from that they worry about class mobility (which is sensible) and education (also sensible) but only insofar as the two are endangered by the shrinking of government spending.
When it comes to university education, they’re equally concerned. Nearly all of the panelists note that college is too expensive, that student-loan debt is crippling, and that a degree doesn’t deliver the employability it once did. But instead of questioning the university system itself, they all call for more financial aid and more college access. Which can only exacerbate the problems of cost and value.
The rest of the event is similarly unserious. Everyone agrees that technology in general, and social media in particular, are vitally important to the body politic. They call for intergenerational dialogue. They worry about the staggeringly high unemployment among young workers. And simultaneously share war stories about insipid Millennial job seekers. Says the Nick Friedman, the small business owner: “I have employees who work for three months and then think they should own the company.” Says Tim Heberlein, one of the community organizers, “I have recent grads with no experience demanding a $60,000 starting salary.” (There is an entire subgenre of business literature on the sense of entitlement in Millennial employees; see here, here, and here, for starters.)
But the most interesting part of the event is the discussion of Paul Ryan. As Byron York notes, Ryan is the first post-Boomer to appear on a national ticket. He is also devoted to squaring the circle of entitlement reform, which is probably the single most critical issue for younger Americans. Whether they are for the Ryan plan or against it, a group like Young Invincibles is designed specifically to engage it. Instead, they ignore it.
Midway through the event, the moderator asks the panel about Ryan’s Medicare reform plan. Everyone at the table answers that they are vaguely aware of Medicare’s problems and that it is important to preserve the system. Darden Rice, who is president of the St. Petersburg League of Women Voters, says, “I’m hoping Medicare will be there for me in 23 years. . . . I’m very interested in aspects of the ACA that strengthen Medicare.” All eleven panelists talk vaguely about Medicare. Paul Ryan is mentioned exactly once, by Tim Heberlein, who says, “The Ryan plan has introduced the role of economic ideology in healthcare.” There ends the discussion of Paul Ryan.
During the question and answer session, an incredulous reporter explicitly asks the group what they think about Ryan’s proposed Medicare reforms. Again, everyone on the panel avers save Heberlein, who says that it’s really “an ideological question.” And that’s that.
It would be easy to complain about the deep unseriousness of the Young Invincibles. But I wouldn’t be so hard on them. Like everything else that’s gone wrong in America for the last 40 years, it’s probably their parents’ fault.