The Millennial Uprising: stay tuned

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What will the kids think?

The "millennials" -- who can't remember a world without computers, video games and cell phones, whose best and brightest could write programming code in middle school, who responded with lopsided enthusiasm to a promise of "hope and change" -- how will they respond to Washington's ongoing, spectacular dysfunction?

We'll have an inkling in 2014 and we'll know for sure by 2016, because no survey is more relevant than the ballot box.

The baby boomers' coming-of-age began with the Kennedy assassination and continued through civil rights triumphs, the Vietnam morass, "women's liberation," Woodstock and Watergate.

Consequently the boomers have, in general, a quite different view of politics and culture than those of us who came of age during "stag-flation," the Iran hostage crisis, the Reagan-era boom and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Each generation is profoundly shaped by the crises and dramas of its time. What have our millennials witnessed?

The oldest of them probably began to pay attention to the world beyond their homes and schools during the end of the Clinton years. They remember politicians' sordid antics, a rollicking economy, the tech boom and bust, the Gore-Bush election and 9/11.

Younger millennials were forced early to an awareness of the outside world with the trauma of 9/11. Then came the endless war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and the rise of Barack Obama.

If their generation has taken any political lesson away from these dramas, it seems to have been even more anti-Republican than my generation's politics leaned anti-Democrat. George W. Bush's second term left an impression of callous incompetence just as surely as Jimmy Carter's one term displayed utter cluelessness.

Just as my cohort embraced Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America," the millennials cheered for "Hope and Change," voting for the current president in landslide numbers.

Did they get what they voted for? Has President Obama's presidency been any different from the one that preceded it? Did Washington suddenly become non-partisan and competent?

Well, the kids have seen two wars continue, Guantanamo remain open and bungle after deadly bungle in the Middle East.

They’ve been witness to “shovel-ready” jobs that were not, billions in taxpayer dollars given to “green” companies that went belly-up, NSA and IRS prying, and a stimulus that “saved” or created middle-class jobs at a cost of somewhere between $540,000 and $4.1 million per job.

And now Obamacare.

Kids accustomed to effortless digital technology have to be astonished that the federal government can spend half a billion dollars on a website that barely functions.

That their parents' premiums and taxes are in most cases rising, contrary to politicians' promises.

That the government expects them to sign up for expensive health insurance rather than pay a much smaller fine for not doing so.

Of course, these days the kids can tune out as never before. But what definitely will hit close to home, what will be unavoidable, is the scarcity of full-time work.

Plenty of media outlets jumped on this month's labor report showing that part-time jobs remained stable in September to assert that Obamacare is not turning America into a "part-time nation."

But Forbes magazine's even-handed analysis of yearly trends is gloomy indeed and considerably more persuasive than, say, the Los Angeles Times and Yahoo! News' cheerleading.

Worse still, Investors Business Daily demonstrates that the industries prone to reducing workers' hours rather than provide insurance are the low-wage service industries where teens, new college grads and minorities are over-represented.

And that's happened before Obamacare's employer mandate actually has kicked in.

Every generation has its moment of disillusionment with democracy. Every administration since Nixon's has at some point prompted reporters to ask, "What did the president know and when did he know it?"

Will this millennium's bipartisan record of over-reach, miscalculation and ineptitude make our millennials newly skeptical about what government can really do?

Conservatives and libertarians worry that no matter what we voters want, governments always double down. If at first it doesn't succeed, pay the failures more.

But, at some point, futile spending wreaks enough economic pain on enough taxpayers that they rise up to stop it. Here's hoping they do so before the whole edifice collapses.

Ruth Ann Dailey: ruthanndailey@hotmail.com.


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