Wissot: Is Bernie the Pied Piper of generational warfare?
Strange as it seems, a 78-year-old self-described “democratic socialist” is leading a giddy group of kids — some 60 years younger — on a journey that could take him to the White House or lead the Democratic Party to political oblivion. Fresh off his big victory in the Nevada caucuses, a Bernie Sanders candidacy has the potential for exposing the generational fault lines which will determine elections for years to come.
On one side of those lines are old folks like me and the baby boomers (1946-1964) who are following my “silent generation” (1925-1945) into senility. For us, the future is now because it is foolish to plan for a tomorrow that we may not get to see.
Security is paramount. We want Social Security, Medicare, our 401(k) plans protected. Not surprisingly, Bernie’s Medicare For All and free higher education for everyone — including the children of the rich — are making the senior set nervous about the economic impact of those proposals on their financial well-being.
To conservatives, the fear is that a Bernie presidency will play havoc with financial markets and ruin a good economy (for some at least). Silver-haired liberals like me worry for another reason. A repeat of the trouncing Barry Goldwater took in 1964 when he won a whopping six states, or worse, George McGovern in 1972 when he won only one, is what concerns us most about Bernie. Getting rid of Trump matters more to us than eliminating income inequality.
The millennials (1981-1996) and the even bigger generation which follows them, Generation Z (born after 1997), have a different set of priorities. Some of them will live to the very end of this century. Understandably, the future they inherit is of foremost importance. Boomers might worry about the effect climate change will have for their children and grandchildren, but they will not be living on a polluted planet for that many more years. What is an existential crisis for the young is not for the old.
Bernie’s kiddie corps has less to lose by rolling the dice in favor of a revolution now. They don’t have a huge financial stake in the present, no mortgages to pay, no children to send to college, no worries about retirement accounts. What Bernie is selling is what they are buying.
Saving the planet, free college tuition, no more student debt and guaranteed health care are very appealing when you have few material assets at risk. You don’t fret about losing your employer-based health care when you are working at a place that doesn’t offer any.
The irony for me is that Bernie’s radical proposals for the economy and environment will ultimately be adopted in the not-too-distant future. I won’t be around to see them enacted, but Bernie’s kids certainly will.
Do you really think that we will be using fossil fuels as our main energy source in 2050? I sure don’t. Once the costs of renewables approach that of oil and natural gas, the fossil fuel industry will figure out how to profit from the clean green revolution. It pays to be on the right side of progress when your economic future is at stake.
It’s a shame that Bernie has to be such a rigid ideologue. A more pragmatic candidate might be able to straddle the generational divide better. But pragmatism is not what the kids want.
They want a political purist — and Bernie passed their purity test with flying colors four years ago.
To my fellow older Americans who don’t like Trump but fear Bernie will put their finances in jeopardy, I say, chill. If Bernie were elected, he has very little chance of getting his platform through Congress in its present form. It wouldn’t just be Republicans who would balk. Moderate Democrats in swing districts don’t want to have to defend government-run health care and free higher education to their constituents.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a big Bernie backer — and darling of the rabid left — let the cat out of the bag regarding the need for less political rigidity when she said, “a president can’t wave a magic wand and pass any legislation they want.” She went on to explain, “worst-case scenario” … “compromise deeply, and we end up getting a public option.”
Oh, if Bernie could only “compromise deeply.” But I don’t think it’s in his DNA or that of his followers.
Bernie’s fate will depend on whether his young voting block will show up for him this fall the way they did for Democrats in the 2018 midterms. There, by a 51% to 36% margin, they outvoted their boomer counterparts.
If this young electorate flexes its voting muscles, it could make the 2020 election much closer than pundits think it will be now. If the kids don’t, Trump will waltz to victory, and the first serious test this century of generational power will be won by their elders.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at email@example.com.