The Sexy New Center in Politics, Millenials and the Oncoming Populist Wave

17 Jun 2014

Pelosi and BoehnerTwo days before the 2012 Presidential election, EPIC TIMES founder Jerry Doyle and I had our first conversation on his top 5 syndicated radio show.  Who knows if he was even in the mood to talk to me?  Yet we found common ground as neither of us had much use for Party labels or tolerance for the Kabuki Theatre that comprises much of politics today.  A profit-driven news media hyping personal recrimination coupled with politicians stoking voters’ fears to fill their own coffers is a devastating one-two punch desperately in need of an overhaul.

After we commiserated over Congressional stagnation or policies skewed to benefit a wealthy few, Jerry advertised our interview: “When Republicans and Democrats Dare to Agree.”  That was the beginning of a wonderful friendship and collaboration.  I now call myself an independent, not because my politics have changed, but because I wish to send the message that my vote must be earned.  That idea is taking hold in greater numbers across the United States, to the tune of 51% of the population, in fact.

The results going forward may be anything but predictable.

If House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s shocking loss to an unknown college professor in last Tuesday’s primary didn’t send a chill up the spine of every pol in both Parties, it should have.  Per Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s article, Emerging Populism Bursting Washington Bubble, author Salena Zito blames Cantor’s ouster on a groundswell of voters sick of being left out of the equation: 

Populism is much more complicated than most people realize; it cannot be manufactured, cannot be forced, and no one person or handful of people can claim to inspire it. Populism, at its core, is driven by personal economics, disconnection from representative government and frustration with the lack of power to change either.  [snip]

…[M]ost people in Washington do not understand this moderate-in-tone populist wave. First, the wave is not going to take out every incumbent, so no “secret sauce” can “fix” it; second, it will have broad impact on both parties; third, it is relatively invisible because it has no name, no brand or party allegiance.

The smart money says Cantor didn’t lose last week because of immigration policy, but because he was too arrogant, too disconnected from his constituents – and interestingly – too willing to drown his opponent in money to discredit him.  Imagine spending $2 million dollars in one Congressional district just to say the other guy stinks.  Well, what’s good about you, then?

This may be welcome news for those not flush with cash.  As Ms. Zito also points out, there is no substitute for good old fashioned retail politics.

And while there is no guarantee that new is better than old, this result may have the added benefit of threatening the “old” into doing a better job.

Zito is correct that the wave is moderate in tone.  If reasonable folk ever get up in arms…watch out.  However, while a growing center is fueling that populist wave, there is a simultaneous growth of hate-speak and intolerance from the loudest “Ds” and “Rs,” the chief propagators of which are the Chris Matthews/Sean Hannity types who think foaming at the mouth is more helpful than sharing facts and useful analysis.

Mr. Matthews was quoted last year as saying that people now tune into these cable shows to have their opinions validated.  But we never learn in an echo chamber.  Only when our belief systems are challenged and we are forced to make a cogent argument, devoid of name calling, do we know what we’re made of – as well, the positions we defend.

National Journal’s Ron Fournier speaks of the Hard-Core, Hardheaded, Hateful Partisans Crowding Out Our Politics, and asks if “an increasingly polarized electorate [are] driving political leaders to the extremes? Or is poor leadership and hyperbolic rhetoric driving voters to ideological corners?”  He concludes the answer is likely “both.”

Per a recent Pew study, Fournier describes these “hardheads” as partisans who hate one another, and consider the other side an existential threat to the safety of our nation.  Possessed of a pack mentality, they refuse to compromise.  Ezra Klein of Vox offers a comprehensive breakdown of Pew’s massive study, stating that “these divisions are greatest among those who are the most engaged and active in the political process.”

If mainstream media has their way, and if the last 20 years are any indication, one would assume hard core partisans will win the duel to the death over reasonable folk in the middle.  Yet elections are not won at the margins.  This is where beautiful, if unlikely, friendships come into play.

First, the new populist surge is an opportunity for Baby Boomers (betrayed after playing by the rules only to see their 401Ks turn into 101Ks) and Millenials (weaned on the tragedy of 9/11, economic stagnation and high unemployment) to come together to force a more effective, pragmatic governing prescription on the leaders they elect – and indeed, become.

Millenials, some 90 million strong, despite current uncertainty, are high on optimism while being low on expectation.  In 2016, they will account for 30% of the voting population.  4 in 10 millenials are overwhelmed by debt, 8 in 10 say the recession taught them to save now, and per U.S. News and World Report, Millenials spend and save carefully.

In research published by the Brookings Institute, Elaine Kamarck also noted that:

Millennials’ attitudes as consumers, as workers, and as investors are unique enough … to conclude that Wall Street may well be in for a “millennial reckoning.” For example, one of the studies …found that almost two-thirds of millennials “would rather make $40,000 a year at a job they love than $100,000 a year at a job they think is boring.” Not only do millennials focus on corporate social responsibility, but their lack of trust in the financial sector does not indicate good things for the current governing philosophy on Wall Street. As the paper points out, organizational cultures “that lose touch with the changes taking place in a society pose a clear danger to the future of those organizations.” This does not “bode well for the survival of America’s current corporate governance practices.”

In a fascinating National Journal article, What’s It Like to be a Millenial in Congress, Tulsi Gabbard (D) and Aaron Schock (R) detail an unlikely friendship of their own:

“We are together in a disdain for the status quo. We are together in our lack of appreciation for processes instead of outcomes, and we are together that while we may have strong principled views that vary, that we also believe we grew up in a society where you don’t get everything you want. Some call that compromise; some call that negotiation. I like to call that reality.”

An older generation, too, yearns for a sensible compromise and working government.  The country has been through the worst of it and a plurality no longer believes Left or Right talking points.

Esquire’s Mark Warren takes a stab at explaining what speaks to 51% of today’s population, younger and older:

The overwhelming driver defining this new American Center is a feeling of an uncertain economic destiny and fear of the future. The importance of the sense of sustained economic peril that has gripped the country since 2008 cannot be overstated in how it has shaped the choices, opinions, and psychology of this cohort of Americans. And while there is great demographic variety in this new American Center, this extraordinarily large cohort has in common an alienation from political parties in general and conventional labels in particular. … [snip]

In political terms, these Americans are up for grabs, but you’ve got to be substantive, and you’d better leave your party’s hobbyhorses back at headquarters. Most importantly, and most hopefully: Emanating strongly from this rich and complex set of data from which the most complete and useful portrait of the new American Center has emerged comes this theme, expressed in a dozen different ways: a demand for the classic American notion of fairness.

But for such ideas to grow in power, they must have outlets apart from those typically offered.

In media, the organization that captures the attention and loyalty of this wave will be the one offering participants a place to debate and exercise ideas, to listen and learn, without the kind of vitriol of either MSNBC or FOX News.

In the same vein, the candidate likely to win in 2016 will be the one to speak with an authentic voice – bromides and slogans (“Yes, We Can” – Barack Obama) (“How do you like your freedom?” – Sarah Palin) will not cut it.  The first to the head of the class, then, may be a surprise.

All of this is to say, the more we have venues catering to a sexy, if more volatile, middle, the greater the chances that the 51% will grow into a larger number, forcing the status quo out of their comfort zones.

I for one am grateful to have an opportunity to write for EPIC TIMES, where divergent opinion is not only tolerated, but celebrated.


Anita Finlay is the bestselling author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin.  Sharing the untold story of Hillary’s 2008 campaign, Dirty Words exposes media sexism in a society not as evolved as advertised.  “The book tells it like it is for women aspiring to power.”  #1 on Amazon’s Women in Politics books for 16 weeks.

Like Anita Finlay, Author on Facebook.

Follow @AnitaFinlay on Twitter.




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