The national debate over whether or not to launch a military strike against Syria is revealing the contours of a serious generation gap. Former Massachusetts Senator William “Mo” Cowan and former Massachusetts Secretary of State Trey Grayson told Chuck Todd that there’s a real difference between Generation X’ers currently serving in politics and the Millennials they teach at the Harvard Institute of Politics.
There are 95 million Americans in the “Millennial” generation who were born between 1982 and 2003. Cowan said Millennials he teaches are devoted to community service, but don’t see politics as a real public service.
Harvard IOP’s study, “Survey of Young Americans’ Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service” reveals widespread cynicism among young Americans, especially when it comes to elected officials. Nearly 3 in 5 say politicians are driven by “selfish reasons.”
The run up to the invasion of Iraq might have jaded Generation X’ers about intervention in Syria and contributed to the national resistance. The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows 54% of Americans don’t believe the president has made a convincing case for action against Syria. But as Chuck Todd points out, its hard to judge just how jaded Millennials are about Syria since most of them were still in elementary school when the U.S. invaded Iraq.
Whether the issues involve Syria or the federal budget, Grayson said, President Obama must maintain the support of the Millennials. Grayson said the president would not have won his second term with out their support, and “he’s somebody they do have some level of belief in.”
But, Millennials do not think government is a solution to the country’s problems, he said. As Cowan puts it, “they [Millennials] embrace disruptive things.” But Cowan questions how disruptive politicians can be from inside the system. Politicians can tap into that disruptive force, but it’s unclear how it plays out once they’re in office. Grayson said Millennials don’t want to join the larger, established political parties. The lack of loyalty could make for interesting elections as Baby Boomers retire out of office and make way for the next generation.
Cowan and Grayson agree the real challenge for the nation going forward will be molding high-tech attention spans to a low-tech political system. “The founders set up a system that was going to move slowly,” said Grayson, “It’s supposed to move slowly.”