Rush Limbaugh recently published a piece here on PolicyMic titled, “Pandering to Milliennials Will Ruin the GOP.” For many of us, especially those who know something of his public character, it seems safe to say that the worst was expected.
What a surprise.
Limbaugh begins his piece by asking us to clear our minds — to “become naïve again,” as Werner J. Dannhauser put it. There is a virtue to this. Dannhauser once described his teacher’s great virtue as restoring to students a certain level of innocence: “he trained us to see things as they come to sight, to let them appear without the distortions modern opinion imposes upon then, and, yes, to let them speak to us.” The point of reading this way is to understand the author as they understand themselves and to take them seriously.
I think we can afford Limbaugh this favor. It will do us both good. In reading over his piece, the central point seems to be that millennials do not, in themselves and as themselves, deserve to be listened to.
“You can demand to be respected, recognized, and listened to all day long,” he writes, “but understand that no one has any obligation to listen to you. You are going to have to make them want to ... by virtue of your achievements. By demonstrating potential. By being interesting. Yes, even by being provocative. Fearless.”
In other words, we need to win by our own merits — not simply demographics.
He talks about the Republican Party, presumably as a Republican himself, and suggests that the Party would be harmed by what he sees as an unmerited “pandering” to young voters.
“The pursuit of being liked,” as he styles it, “can be the greatest prison you ever put yourself into, because you will be afraid to be who you really are.”
This is good language for our generation. Ke$ha's song, “We R Who We R” is, in a sense, who we are. We are the “YOLO” generation and we are “Born This Way.” We are an incredibly social generation and even a charitable one, but we are also rather protective of things like “identity” and tend to get indignant when such a thing is questioned.
We have a lot in common with Rush’s generation. He describes baby boomers as “a self-absorbed bunch who never really had to grow up” — and for us millennials, well, some of us are the children of that generation. Our parents were often “hands-off” or “friends.” Our teachers inflated our egos with grand talks of “following our dreams,” and we have a supreme sense of toleration and very little sense of prejudice — either good or bad. We grew up with broken homes and saw how flimsy your generation’s marriages turned out to be: as a result, we’re cautious about marrying and no longer sure what exactly it means to be “married” at all. Some people even think marriage is just about “loving” someone. It’s sad.
Nobody gave us great books. We tended not to grow up with the Bible — I certainly didn’t - even rarer was it for us to grow up with the Bible and serious religious institutions. The idea of the “Western Cannon” seems quaint to us; we’re all multiculturalists now. We still read — more than most others, in fact — but nobody really told us what to read or even how to read.
What I mean to say in all of this is that it’s a work in progress. Limbaugh’s generation left us a very strange, interesting, foolish, tolerant, irresponsible, and thoughtless place. We’re doing what we can: saving money, taking whatever jobs we can, waiting on home ownership, eating out less, and trying to figure out the life your generation, as you suggest, never did.
He talks about merit and rightly so. But it seems to me that someone who speaks favorably of Republicans can find a lot to like about this generation. Eric Liu wrote a fine piece a couple of days ago on why millennials can be the generation to break out of the “gridlock” — and ugly word for what Limbaugh describes, just as unfortunately, as an “ideological war” — in a way that may be found pleasing.
Mr. Liu writes that millennials have grown up “in a social and technological milieu that is dismissive of large top-down institution and in many ways hostile to elite power concentration.” For those who saw this tweet from Sen. McConnell, you know what he means by “top down”:
What should reassure Limbaugh is that this generation is going to solve problems differently. Once we come to understand that unlimited government is a failure, we’ll downsize. Instead, we’ll align ourselves with conscious capitalism, social entrepreneurship, and a dynamic philanthropy that makes use of mobile applications, crowd funding, and local initiatives. Call it Neo-Tocquevillean Association — the future is coming, and liberal progressivism, as it is now, won’t be in it. Many millennials do not quite see this yet, but give us some time; we need to get some jobs first.
Social truths once sacred have been attacked, but they were attacked because they were based on ideas — and Mr. Limbaugh’s generation was awful at ideas because ideas require something like mental maturity. In other words, one needs to do the growing up he says never occurred. Perhaps, in time, there will be a “renaissance” of ideas about truth, friendship, sex, marriage, art, and all of the other things conservatives speak so passionately about; but perhaps we should also take a lesson from the left and try pursuing these things in civil society instead of just in formal politick.
I give my sincere thanks to Limbaugh for speaking to our generation so thoughtfully. I hope that his good words are an inspiration to action for us all to pursue, in this 21st century, the right progress for a generation.