Since President Obama’s relatively narrow yet still clear re-election victory, both liberals and conservatives have engaged in a virtual non-stop orgy of analysis geared toward explaining the result. Some of this discussion has been useful as Republicans have been forced to come to grips with the fact that they have been pushing away Hispanics and relying on assumptions about the way social issues played with most voters that may no longer be true. But, as happens after almost every election, there is also an equal amount of nonsense being put forward about how 2012 marks a turning pointing in our political history that may lead to realignment. As recently as 2005, Republicans were playing this game and now it is the turn of liberals to jump to unsustainable conclusions.
The latest example of this sort of writing comes in today’s New York Times as Sheryl Gay Stolberg details her journey to Montana to claim President Obama’s success with young voters may lead to an irreversible shift in the country’s political alignment. Her thesis is that the Democrats’ advantage with this demographic isn’t merely limited to the way their acceptance of gay marriage and abortion have affected those under 30. Instead, she goes farther than that and claims that young voters are now as addicted to entitlement spending as some of their elders. This belief in the goodness of government largesse and the alleged corresponding decline in cynicism about big government will create a new political reality that will be baked into the system even as these voters get older.
There is no denying the appeal of free stuff from the government for citizens of any age or background. In 21st century America, everyone has their snout in the proverbial trough of federal spending and that impacts attempts to cut spending or to rally support for fiscal sanity. But the problem with the belief that the young Montanans who like the idea of preserving Medicare and Social Security as they are today will form a Democratic firewall to preserve an Obama majority indefinitely is that the assumption upon which this idea rests is built on sand. Sooner or later most young members of the workforce are going to catch on to the fact that they are the losers in the liberal entitlement Ponzi scheme, not the winners.
Stolberg has a point when she makes the case that social issues like gay marriage may be a losing battle for conservatives who underestimate the way popular culture has altered the views of many Americans in the last generation. However, the affection for government she discovers among some Montanans who would presumably be just the sort of Western individualists that would disdain Washington makes a less persuasive argument for future Democratic dominance.
It may be that many of those interviewed by Stolberg like the idea of free health care, more government subsidies for education and government “investment” in job creation that will provide some of them with paychecks for a while. But while many seniors may regard the national debt that has been piling up in order to pay for all these goodies is the next generation’s problem, these under-30 voters are going to live long enough to see the day of reckoning for the government’s spending problem. If they do get productive jobs in the private sector, they’re not going to like the way their tax rates are going to skyrocket in order to pay for the free stuff they like so much today. They are also going to realize that the administration’s pledge to keep entitlements in tact is not likely to survive President Obama’s time in office, if that long.
No one should assume that the ticking debt time bomb ensures Republican victories any more than the appeal of government benefits guarantees votes in perpetuity for the Democrats. The GOP has a lot of work to do to reinvigorate their brand but the notion that a pro-growth platform that tells the truth about entitlements to the people is a loser is a Democratic fairy tale. Democrats may buy some young voters with promises about entitlements that can’t be kept. But the idea that they will stay bought despite the looming debt crisis is not one that Obama’s successors should stake their careers on.