BOOK REVIEWS: Generation Right: The Young Conservative in the Age of Obama (2010) by Dan Joseph, Xlibris, 186 pages; and Obama Zombies: How the Liberal Machine Brainwashed My Generation by Jason Mattera (2010), Threshold, 288 pages.
After World World I, authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos came to define “The Lost Generation.” Their books describe the moral loss they felt, and how the war left them physically and mentally wounded.
Today Dan Joseph of Generation Right and Jason Mattera of Obama Zombies are in the vanguard of young authors defining a new generation. “The Lost Generation” had to endure the pain of a world war in which 20 million died, while today’s Generation Y has to cope with the “Blame America First” crowd on college campuses, in the news media and on Capitol Hill.
Members of “The Lost Generation” retreated into alcohol and the frivolity of Jazz Age, while Generation Y appears to have only a superficial interest in current issues. Both of these books are battle plans against the political sentiments of those under 30.
Of more importance, both advocate a concerted effort focused on their generation, and they believe the present liberal advantage can be reversed. The authors claim it is possible for conservatives to at least split the youth vote in 2010 and 2012.
Why Did Young People Vote for Hope and Change?
Barack Obama first came to prominence at the 2004 Democratic Convention, and his most enthusiastic supporters have always come from Generation Y. Young people were also in the forefront of liberal ranks when conservatives lost Congress in 2006.
The President would not be in office without these core supporters. Obama’s hope, change and “Yes, we can” message catapulted him to frontrunner status when he defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Iowa presidential precinct caucuses.
His Iowa victory margin came entirely from first time voters who were overwhelmingly under 30. Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 were both hoping for a significant youth vote advantage, but the wave did not arrive until the emergence of Barack Obama.
These books explain why many young people who were once apathetic “became passionate liberal advocates in 2008.” Generation Right and Obama Zombies were written for young people who want to fight back. Dan Joseph says the task is difficult and tells young conservatives they will often be “the only thing standing in the way of a liberal steamroller.” Both Joseph and Mattera provide debate talking points for their peers.
Joseph describes his book as “The definitive guide on how the Left captured the hearts of Generation Y and how conservatives can win them back.” Mattera explains why Obama’s hip style and anti-war views resonated with young people. He reviews polling data that shows Generation Y knows little about politics or current issues.
Mattera, the editor of the conservative weekly Human Events, says McCain never competed with Obama in new media areas such as social networking, text messages and cell phone technology. This was a fatal mistake because his generation is not reading daily newspapers or watching network TV news programs. Obama’s nine million Facebook friends were another factor which went beyond the traditional media.
Both authors express disappointment that the study of history and government has declined in schools, and the results are now apparent in Generation Y’s huge knowledge gap in these areas. The books are similar in that the authors outline many reasons liberals have been effective in reaching Generation Y, but Joseph and Mattera have unique observations which rarely overlap. What does overlap is that both authors describe a comeback trail for conservatives, and Mattera provides six steps the right must take to be successful in future campaigns.
The Importance of the Youth Vote
The Presidential election turned out 52% of young voters, and in the 18-29 age group they preferred Barack Obama over John McCain by a 66% to 32% margin. The youth vote increased by 13% in 2008, and if the candidates had split this age group, then Obama’s victory margin margin would have been reduced to just .5%.
If McCain had won 52% of Generation Y, he would be in the White House. Survey research data now demonstrates the enthusiasm of young voters has tanked, and this is already being reflected at the polls. The President’s approval ratings have fallen significantly in all age groups, but the drop among young voters has been the sharpest for any age demographic.
The Chump Generation Faces Huge Challenges
Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post describes young people as “The chump generation:”
As baby boomers retire, higher federal spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid may boost millennials’ taxes and squeeze other government programs. It will be harder to start and raise families. They could suffer for their elders’ economic sins, particularly the failure to confront the predictable costs of baby boomers’ retirement.
Not only will young people have debts well into the future, but they can not find a job. Youth unemployment is a staggering 53%, a rate which has not been seen since the Great Depression.
Furthermore, many economists are not predicting a return to full employment in the near future. Over a third of young people are receiving financial help from their families. According to a Pew Foundation study of 50,000 people in the this age group, just 2% of them served in the military, 2/5’s have tattoo’s, and 75% have a Facebook profile.
Why are young conservatives at a real disadvantage?
Dan Joseph says it is not hip or cool to be a young conservative. He believes young conservatives are on their own and they have to figure out the ideology for themselves without the support of a social network:
Liberalism enjoys a ‘cool’ factor that is often off the charts. The type of activism that often accompanies left wing causes is romanticized by Hollywood. The activities associated with the Left are likely to include members of a young person’s peer group. The same people they associate with in their academic and social lives. The lack of glamour hurts us with young people. . .
A conservative has to understand why the easy sounding answers are very often the wrong answers. Becoming truly knowledgeable about political issues requires taking the time to educate oneself on a host of intricate policies. Most young people do not have the time to do this.
The authors believe liberalism’s simplistic solutions are more appealing to young people. They say conservatism involves more complex and nuanced approaches, and these solutions are a much more difficult to sell given today’s short attention spans.
Why is it Easy to be a Liberal?
Both Dan Joseph and Jason Mattera believe liberalism is the easier of the two major political philosophies to understand. They claim many young liberals believe conservatives are opposed to basic concepts of human decency.
They say Republicans have been labeled as the side that lacks compassion for minorities and the poor. Joseph says the basic tenets of liberalism:
are about as complex as the plot of a Saturday morning cartoon. Its simplistic principles fit into nifty little sound bites, “peace,” “equality,” “Saving the planet” and “helping children.” People instinctively like free stuff and liberalism is the free stuff ideology.
Every survey indicates young votes give a low priority to social issues. A survey sponsored by the Young Republican National Federation showed only 6 percent of young party activists thought the GOP should focus on social issues.
Generation Right says key wedge issues such as abortion and gay rights place large segments of the Republican base in a position that is diametrically opposed to cherished and long-ingrained opinions of the majority of Americans under the age of 30. Economic issues are clearly dominate with the young, and both authors believe the GOP should give them priority attention. These books also outlined a campaign plan that was followed by Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA).