Young People Aren't Buying Into Conservative Generational Warfare


Sam Seder's Majority Report, June 7, 2012

We've heard it from every Republican in front of a microphone: "We must cut Social Security benefits to save it for future generations." The implication is clear: the "greedy geezers" (as Alan Simpson refers to them) didn't plan well enough for surviving into their senior years and are sucking on the teat of the federal government cash cow, draining it for future generations.

In a word, bullsh*t.

Sam Seder aptly takes down Simpson's fallacies above, so I won't bother to go through it again. This is a cynical ploy to pit one generation against another to distract them from those who are really threatening our collective welfare: Wall Street and banking industry, who stole and destroyed pension programs and whose wages have risen exponentially higher than the average American.

Still, I worry about the constant reinforcement of this message to the younger generations. Are they absorbing this nasty meme and viewing the older generations with the same sneering attitude that Alan Simpson portrays? Turns out, not so much:

There's good news from the front in one of our internecine economic and political battles: the war between the generations.

The news is that the younger generation is beginning to see through the propaganda.

For years now, efforts to set young against old have been linchpins in campaigns to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits and turn those programs over to the private sector. The basic tactic is to portray those programs as giveaways to undeserving seniors that rip off the young; the goal is to turn the ostensibly dispossessed young into an effective political counterweight to reform-resistant elderly.

Again, the most cynical of ploys, and one that that been in use for more than twenty years.

The purest articulation of intergenerational warfare as a wedge to break up Social Security's political coalition is a 1983 paper published by the libertarian Cato Journal. It was titled "Achieving a 'Leninist' Strategy," an allusion to the Bolshevik leader's supposed ideas about dividing and weakening his political adversaries.

The paper advocated making a commitment to honor Social Security's commitment to the retired and near-retired as a tool to "detach, or at least neutralize" them as opponents of privatization or other changes. Meanwhile, doubts among the young about the survival of the program should be exploited so they could be "organized behind the private alternative."

So when you hear a politician promising to exempt the retired and near retired from changes to Social Security, while offering to make it more "secure" for future generations, you now know the game plan.

And thankfully, the millennials are beginning to see through it. In discussing this as marketing ploy with some progressive advocates who are fighting to make more sensible reforms (bringing back the Gore-mocked "lock box", obliterating the cap, lowering the age), I was reminded of this National Geographic special from a couple of months ago. In it, Richard Leakey was discussing an amazing finding about the "Bones of Turkana", the most intact 1.5 million year old skeleton found:

The skeleton showed a young man with what appeared to be significant disability who was clearly cared for into his late teens or young adulthood. Rather than the heartless dog-eat-dog survivalist world of Republican "I got mine, f* you", here was a clear evidence of compassion and a social contract to care for the weaker members of society. It wasn't in the NG video I embedded (but it's available on the PBS website), however, I was moved by Leakey's words. He said, "From then on, when trying to determine the classification of remains, one of the absolute requirements for being considered homo is evidence of compassion. Were the less able cared for? Were the elderly cherished and helped? Were the dead treated with some kind of ceremony?"

It is the most essential part of our being -- of our species -- to care for others. We cannot allow this evolutionary mutation of conservative selfishness dead end us into forgetting that.

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