Depending on one’s partisan leanings, the desire of House Republicans to shut down the federal government if the Democrats don’t agree to repeal ObamaCare may seem to be either a courageous ideological stand or a kamikaze mission sure to destroy its proponents, if not the country. However, from a generational perspective it is not only a predictable but a necessary step in the country’s search for a new consensus on the role and size of government.
Nor is it coincidental that the current confrontation is coming to a head just as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is about to be implemented nationwde. The roles that the legislation assigns to the federal government, states and individuals in securing every citizen access to medical insurance is such a departure from the existing civic ethos it has become the touchstone for the debate about the nation’s civic ethos in the Millennial Era. Yet, ironically, the law everyone wants to argue about actually provides a blueprint to any politician willing to go beyond their current ideological comfort zone and solve a range of challenges in ways that respond to the beliefs and behaviors of the emerging Millennial Majority in the electorate.
As finally passed by a Democratic Congress in 2010, ACA creates a relationship between the federal government and the nation’s adult population similar to the role Millennials’ parents have played in their young children’s lives. Parents pronounced rules to guide their children’s behavior with consequences (“time outs”) if the rules were broken. Similarly, the ACA requires each individual to purchase health insurance and provides penalties (taxes) for failing to do so, an approach the Supreme Court ruled lawful under Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution. And, just as parents and other members of the extended community helped Millennials succeed within the boundaries of the rules they established, ACA envisioned a series of state by state health insurance exchanges that would help each state’s residents find the type of insurance they wanted at a cost they could afford. As those exchanges open for business in about half of the states this week, this new configuration of American democracy will be put to a practical test, but the fundamental concept is likely to be recognized in the future as the basis for a new civic ethos as distinct from the Reagan era of limited government as was the New Deal from its laissez faire predecessor.
History suggests, however, that the country must go through a crisis as bad as the one it is facing today before this happens. The New Deal was born out of the perils of the Great Depression. Reagan’s tough love solution of lower taxes and less government regulation required years of economic stagflation before it became conventional political wisdom. Today, neither of those ideas has proven equal to the task of breaking the country out of the economic doldrums of the Great Recession.
Older politicians will have to get beyond their ideological blinders to recognize the opportunity waiting for any candidate or political party that can embrace both halves of the Millennial era civic ethos paradox. Members of the Millennial generation are as suspicious of large government bureaucracies as any libertarian but as dedicated to economic equality and social justice as any liberal. To resolve the crisis, the GOP should embrace ObamaCare as a great example of how government can encourage individual responsibility and accountability and Democrats should sign up for President Obama’s commitment to creating a smarter, smaller less bureaucratic government. Only when the crisis becomes so bad that a few brave leaders break out of their ideological bunkers and discover a new civic ethos that embodies both collective action and individual responsibility will the Millennial Era civic ethos emerge from the chaos created by a Congress so out of step with the beliefs and behaviors of the future leaders of the country.
Millennials Think Globally, Act Locally
ObamaCare is the model for how Millennials will change
the role and size of government at all levels in the future.
Video from Mike and Morley
at Huffington Post
Every 80 years, the Supreme Court has decisively entered a sharply divided political process to provide its own answer to the fundamental question of American politics: what is the scope and purpose of government? Each time, it has attempted to reinforce the generational and party alignments of a previous era in the face of challenges from the beliefs and partisan preferences of an emerging civic-oriented generation like today's Millennials (born 1982-2003). But this time, as the 80 year cycle came full circle, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold the individual mandate in the 2010 Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") under the taxation powers of the Congress surprised everyone.
As in the past, the generational and partisan composition of this Supreme Court reflects an earlier era. Five of the justices, including a majority of its conservative bloc (Roberts, Thomas, and Alioto) are Boomers (born 1946-1964). The rest are members of the even older Silent Generation (born 1925-1945). A majority are Republicans. Yet in this case, Chief Justice Roberts bucked history and his generation's preference for ideological confrontation in order to preserve the institutional reputation of the Supreme Court.
Perhaps the Court understood the historical and generational trends any ruling to overturn the Affordable Care Act would have had to fight against. Two-thirds of Millennials wanted the Affordable Care Act either to be expanded (44 percent) or left as is (23 percent). By contrast, clear pluralities of Boomers (44 percent) and Silents (46 percent) wanted it repealed. Millennials, however, represent the wave of the future. They now comprise one-fourth of all eligible voters; by 2020 more than one out of three adult Americans will be Millennials. And that Millennial-dominated future is now likely to arrive much sooner as a result of the court's decision.
Because this large cohort is bringing a new "civic ethos" to American democracy, the Court's decision is likely to have far-reaching effects on the future relationship between government and its citizens. Millennials believe that social rules are important but that everyone should have the freedom to choose how to abide by them. They see government as a parent, setting the boundaries of behavior but not dictating it. Two key elements of the Court's decision today reinforce this approach. One upholds the right of the federal government to tax behavior of which it does not approve (in this instance, not buying health insurance). The second denies Congress the right to dictate to the states what they must do with regard to Medicaid. The Millennial civic ethos will use democratic processes to determine national priorities and rules for permissible behavior by both individuals and states, even as it provides incentives for greater individual and local initiative.
With the Court's affirmation of the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the country is likely to see this framework used to resolve many of the other policy challenges the country faces. June 28, 2012, will be remembered as the day the Millennial Era arrived in the nation's legal principles as it did in its electoral politics four years ago.
One of the distinctive traits of Millennials (born roughly 1982-2003) is a constant feeling of being pressured. Thanks to their parents setting high expectations for them, Millennials consider life a series of hoops to be jumped through.
At each stage of their young lives, from kindergarten to college, the pressure to succeed has made them a risk averse, anxious generation, even as they remain optimistic about their ultimate success.
As a result, almost half of Millennials (45%) report feeling nervous due to stress at least monthly, and more than half (52%) say that their stress levels have increased over the last five years. But Millennials are also demonstrating a much healthier approach to dealing with this problem than older generations, reinforcing their reputation as the best-behaved American generation in decades.
Stress Response From Different Generations
The latest report from the American Psychological Association on Stress in America reveals very distinctive patterns in how different generations handle stress.
It explains that Boomers and senior citizens are much more likely than Millennials to “get in touch with their inner self” in order to deal with stress, either through prayer, or reading, or telling others their feelings rather than “keeping them bottled up” inside.
Meanwhile, members of Generation X, which is generally the most stressed generation of all, tend to engage in the most self-destructive behaviors when under stress. They are twice as likely as Millennials to say they deal with stress by smoking and twice as likely as Boomers to say they use alcohol.
Millennials, on the other hand, are more likely than any other generation to deal with stress using non-traditional means. Sixty percent say they listen to music to relieve stress, while less than half of older generations do so. Under stress, almost half (44%) of Millennials play video games or surf the Net. The only generation that comes close to Millennials in the use of these techniques is Generation X (36%). Millennials are also twice as likely as other generations to do yoga or meditate to try and relieve stress.
Some of the differences in how generations think about stress is a reflection of their age, rather than their generational type. As people get older, for instance, their assessment of their stress levels declines. Members of the Silent Generation, now over 65, report lower stress levels than any other generation.
Boomers’ assessment of their stress levels has declined steadily over the last five years, from an average score of 6.5 on a 10-point scale in 2007 to only 4.9 last year.
At the same time, Millennials’ perception of how stressed they are as compared to what they believe would be a healthy level of stress is almost as high as their stressed-out Generation X older siblings.
There are also clear age differences in how well people deal with stress. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that adults under 30, the current age bracket of Millennials, are twice as likely to consider suicide as those over 30. While only 1 percent of Millennials actually kill themselves, their rate of suicide is still five times greater than older generations.
Similarly, the problem of binge drinking is much more prevalent among those between the ages of 18 and 25 than it is among older members of the population, predominantly because the perception that such behavior carries great risk goes up dramatically for those 26 and older.
Still, these types of destructive behavior occur less frequently among Millennials than they did within older generations when those older generations were the age that Millennials are today.
The Bottom Line
In some ways, stress is like the weather—everyone talks about it but few do anything about it.
Only 32 percent of Millennials think they are very good or excellent at managing stress, numbers roughly comparable to other generations. The provision of Obamacare to keep those under 26 on their parents’ health insurance should make it easier for Millennials to gain treatment for the most serious effects of feeling pressured.
But having been taught since they were toddlers always to do their best in order to succeed, Millennials will have to develop lifelong healthy habits to deal with the stress they feel. When they do, they will look back with satisfaction on having thrived in the hyperactive world they helped create.
As Mr. Dooley, Peter Finley Dunne’s astute Irish-American barkeep, observed over a century ago, politics rather than legal precedent, makes it likely the United States Supreme Court will negate the 2010 Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) this year. Every 80 years, the Supreme Court has decisively entered a sharply divided political process to provide its own answer to the fundamental question of American politics: what is the scope and purpose of government? Each time, it has attempted to reinforce the generational and party alignments of a previous era in the face of challenges from the beliefs and partisan preferences of an emerging civic-oriented generation like today’s Millennials (born 1982-2003). This eighty year cycle is due to be repeated in 2012.
The first time the Court attempted to authoritatively resolve an ongoing, deeply divisive political conflict and reaffirm the political arrangements of a previous era was in the dreadful 1857 Dred Scott decision. Before the Court issued its infamous dictum in this case, Congress had struck a careful balance between pro- and anti-slavery forces with the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Based on that agreement, states were admitted to the Union in pairs—one slave and one free. Eventually, driven by the uncompromising ideological beliefs of the Transcendental Generation (born 1792-1821), which were as sharply divided as today’s Baby Boomers, continued accommodation became impossible. In Dred Scott, the Court attempted to impose its own solution by declaring the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional. Its ruling, in effect, made slavery legal throughout the entire country and denied citizenship to blacks, even those who were free.
Of the nine justices who ruled on the case, four were members of the Transcendental Generation and a fifth was born in 1790, on the cusp of generational change. Seven were from the era’s dominant Democratic Party. Five of the seven who decided against Dred Scott were from slave states. It was not until President Abraham Lincoln appointed a majority of justices consisting primarily of Republicans from Union states, that the Court’s regional, generational, and partisan composition changed. During the administrations of Lincoln and his successors, the Court ratified the new governing arrangements that had been achieved in the Civil War.
The same pattern emerged again eight decades later. The argument over the nation’s political fundamentals now dealt with the extent and type of governmental intervention in an industrial economy. In 1935 and 1936, the Supreme Court rallied to protect the old order of laissez faire economics in response to a range of governmentally activist New Deal laws enacted by Franklin Roosevelt and a Democratic Congress with the overwhelming support of America’s newest civic generation, the GI Generation.
Justices Butler, McReynolds, Sutherland, and Van Devanter—nicknamed the “Four Horsemen of Reaction”—often joined with one of the Court’s centrist justices to rule against the core components of the New Deal. Seven of the justices, including three of the Four Horsemen, were of the ideologically-driven Missionary Generation (born 1860-1882). A like number were from the Republican Party that dominated electoral politics from the Civil War to the Great Depression.
It took the political message delivered by FDR’s record-breaking reelection in 1936 to persuade the centrist justices to consistently side with the president and the Court’s liberal “Three Musketeers” by accepting the constitutionality of New Deal laws. Retirements and mortality allowed Roosevelt to appoint eight of nine justices by the time he died in 1945, thereby giving the Court a very different generational and partisan cast.
Today, all of the factors that shaped the Supreme Court’s actions in 1857 and in the 1930s are once more in place. Political figures ranging from Barack Obama to Newt Gingrich remind us that America is again poised to answer the eternal question of the role and size of government. A new civic generation, the Millennials, is emerging with the potential to dominate and reshape politics in the next four decades. Like the GI Generation, Millennials strongly support a reformist Democratic president, favoring Barack Obama against his potential 2012 opponents by about the same 2:1 margin as they did in 2008. As in the past, the generational and partisan composition of the Supreme Court reflects an earlier era. Five of the justices, including a majority of its conservative bloc (Roberts, Thomas, and Alioto) are Boomers (born 1946-1964). The rest are members of the even older Silent Generation (born 1925-1945). A majority are Republicans.
When the Court rules on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, it will be judging legislation about which generations sharply disagree. Two-thirds of Millennials want the Affordable Care Act either to be expanded (44%) or left as is (23%). By contrast, clear pluralities of Boomers (44%) and Silents (46%) want “Obamacare” to be repealed.
If history is any guide, the Supreme Court will rule against a civic generation and a president that generation so strongly supports. But, history also tells us that may not be the end of the story. The Millennial Generation is the largest ever. Millennials now comprise one-fourth of American adults; by 2020 it will be more than one-third. To the extent that this large cohort is able to bring a new “civic ethos” to American democracy, the Court is likely to adhere to another historical precedent by moving beyond the doctrines of an earlier era and accepting those of a new generation. The results of the 2012 election will go a long way toward determining if and when that happens.