THE BLOG
07/08/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama's Millennials -- 83 Million Strong

In "McCain is a Lousy Candidate: He Will Be Clobbered in November" (May 3, 2008), I pointed out the importance of understanding the upcoming election in generational terms, and not just because of the quarter-century age difference between Obama and McCain.

You will not get much of this from the MSM. The anointed pundits slice-and-dice the electorate into the old categories--blue-collar white voters, Latinos, African-Americans, women, catholics, gays, and so on--but miss the phenomenal change occurring under their upturned nostrils.

There are 83 million millennials, people born after 1980 who came of age around the millennium. That is about 5 million more than the baby boomers. The MSM refers to the millennials as just another category in their slice-and-dice political worldview. And, until Barack Obama, they did not vote, nor even care very much about politics.

But, it is not just a matter of the "youth vote," The millennials are quite different from those who preceded them. Having grown up in a multicultural society, having seen people of all races and creeds and genders in everything from the professions to politics, from schools to the military, from sports to music, and from film to theater, they are just not subject to the same appeals to fears-of-otherness that is the hallmark of Republican electoral strategy.

Those terrible 'activist' Justices who decided Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 had it about right: separation implies (and perpetuates) inequality. Exposure, the corollary of their decision, trumps the brain's hardwired fear of otherness. In many respects the millennials represent the first generation that may, indeed, actually live the America we have always sought to build.

Because of their different worldviews, millennials may appear to be generational chauvinists because they do not identify with the worn slice-and-dice categories upon which the MSM enjoys perseverating. Because of their numbers, Obama's ability to mobilize them is one key advantage in the general election.

Barack Obama's life appeals to millennials because it is the new American story. He, himself, the product of a mixed race couple, and not shy about it. He, himself, who was raised in part by his grandparents, and who has touched almost every facet of the American experience except the rural: single parent, food stamps, mother unable to get medical insurance, the community and black liberation church but also the Ivy League, and the achievement -- no mean feat these days, just ask John McCain's, Newt Gingrich's, Bob Dole's, Rush Limbaugh's ex-wives -- of a stable, picturebook marriage with two (extraordinarily cute!) kids.

As he strives to transcend the old divisions in politics, his millennial base has already transcended them. The radical right can stir whatever fears it wants about gay marriage, but the millennials not only have accepted gay marriage, they cannot comprehend why it is even a question....and, unless stem cells provide eternal life, it is they that shall inherit the earth, as each year more and more become of age. When Hillary Clinton ponders her own historic presidential campaign, she will understand that the millennials took a woman's right and ability to be president for granted...not out of lack of appreciation for their elders, but because it is just so obvious to them that an alternative does not even pass the smell test. So, they did not see her race as affirming as her boomer supporters, and they bristled when she spoke in the language of division. It did not matter to them whether that divisive language was deliberate or inadvertent.

Listen also to the voices of the boomer parents (e.g., Maria Shriver, Caroline Kennedy) who supported Obama in the primaries; many have credited their children's pleas. I know many other not well-known boomer parents who say the same.

Millennials disproportionately populate the net that represents a previously non-existent bulwark against the hate, the prejudice, the not-so-subtle-but-previously-deniable attempts to sow fear from "otherness." Want to understand that power? Ask George Allen, who made a career of smiling indirect appeals to race, and found he was unable to deny it when the macacca video surfaced. Their web-roars migrate to major media and provide counterfodder to the scurrilous attacks from the right wing.

Most importantly, however, such fear-mongering just does not strike their amygdalas, that reptilian part of the brain that triggers the defensive, closed mind reaction when the brain encounters an unfamiliar situation. Why? It is not that the brain has changed, but that the situations the radical righties conjure are not "unfamiliar"! If not facing or imagining something as unfamiliar, the fear response recedes (usually 0.75 seconds), and the caring response has room to assert itself.

[By the way although their parents certainly consider them "perfect," this is not to suggest that millennials are without their own issues, or even superior...just qualitatively different from prior generations, and thus not merely "the youth vote" that has been part of the slice-and-dice analyses in the past].

The millennials feel in their bones that George Bush has screwed them both psychologically and economically. Several generations of Americans have now grown up expecting to be safe and the world's leading economy. The millennials represent the first post-World War II generation that, upon coming of age, has great uncertainty that they will inherit that legacy. It is if they may be expelled from Eden. By bungling not only 9/11 but also Katrina, and then miring the country in what he (and McCain) contend is an endless war in Iraq that in turn has emboldened an Iran intent on becoming nuclear, Bush and McCain provide an existential threat to millennials' future well-being.

And, of course, as the number of soldiers required to execute Bush-McCain foreign policies becomes fully understood, millennials will see that the Bush-McCain approach will lead either to defeat for lack of sufficient troops or to a military draft. For them, therefore, the only salvation from being expelled from Eden or conscripted into one failed regime-change war after another, is a government that takes a different approach.

Although not of that generation himself, Obama fits the millennials' needs and aspirations. His very life is a testimony to their worldview. The reason that Obama did not do as poorly against Hillary Clinton as might have been predicted among the old slice-and-dice groups is that the millenials who doubled as a blue collar, or latino, voted more with their generation than with their other identity groups.

What about John McCain? Although the X-ers and boomers may have some recollection of McCain the maverick, to millennials such claims do not pass the laugh-test. It is not that McCain is old -- it is that he views the world from a worn perspective. Millennials have very little regard for McCain's "base" -- the MSM that gives him a free pass.

And, let's face it. McCain is deadly dull.

Obama's challenge is to keep the connection and the excitement going for the millennials while not ignoring the other generational groups especially the boomers, because of their numbers. More on that in the next chapter.