Dear Mr. President,
I'm a third-year law student at Northwestern University in Chicago, and an avid follower of U.S. politics. For whatever the following is worth, I'd like to give you my take, as a millennial, on the Obamacare roll out.
Ron Fournier wrote an article for the Atlantic a few months ago about the political engagement of millennials. Apparently we're disengaged and cynical. That, however, is only when it comes to political engagement. Socially, we're very much engaged. We are giving, purposeful, energetic and service oriented — more so than any other generation. But we don't view Washington as a place to get things done or solve problems. Indeed, we're cynical. Fournier seemed concerned. To him I say, "Can you blame us?"
Let me help explain why. I certainly don't speak for all millennials, but I'm definitely one of the cynics. The Obamacare roll out provides a perfect opportunity to explain myself.
President Obama, you said over and over and over that, "If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan. Period." You guaranteed it.
Then, on Monday, I listened as you said this: "[I]f you have or had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law and you really liked that plan, what we said was you can keep it if it hasn't changed since the law passed."
That is why we're cynical. Right there. That's it. We're cynical because we're not stupid. There is no reconciling those two statements. It does not take a Harvard Law degree to understand that. Blame Republicans, hell, blame George W. Argue the people losing coverage only make up a portion of the 5% of the market who purchase individual plans. Make the case that the individual market drops and re-ups plans all the time. Say you regret misspeaking, but that you believe Obamacare is still ultimately a good law. But do not — please, I beg you — do not tell us now that you never actually said what you clearly actually said. You can't do that and expect us not to be cynical. You just can't. The truth matters.
Please understand, we're not cynical because Washington can't come up with the perfect, silver-bullet policy prescription to save America, as every politician is so apt to promise. Reasonable people can disagree about policy. We're cynical because in Washington ideology trumps basic principles. Somehow, someway, you, the president of the United States, determined you could say out loud, "What we said was you can keep it if it hasn't changed since the law passed." No, Mr. President, that's not what you said. Not even close.
Washington is a place where the ends justify the means. The other side is so stupid or evil that we must do whatever it takes to win. For the good of the country, we must be in control. We know what is best.
Nonsense. Utter, complete nonsense.
The irony of millennials being so service oriented is that we realize that when you go out in the world and actually work to make things better (rather than pontificate from D.C.), ideology and partisan politics means nothing. There is no time for ideology when people work together to reach real solutions and solve real problems.
So yes, we're cynical. Can you blame us?
After college, I joined Teach For America and taught in St. Louis for two years. My friends and I used to joke about how it moderated all of us. Those of us who came in liberal tended to find ourselves much more in the middle after our two years of teaching. The same went for conservatives. And those of us who didn't become more moderate, at least became more pragmatic. We recognized principles — hard work, integrity, honesty, and leadership — matter so much more than ideology. Yet Washington is a place where the leader of our country can make two irreconcilable statements and, because of ideology, far too many people will mentally contort themselves just enough to go along with it.
So yes, we're cynical. Can you blame us?
To end on a positive note, while I'm not confident Washington can do much of anything now (for all of the reasons above), I am completely confident our generation will figure this nonsense out. Indeed, as I think Fournier would agree, we’ll eventually turn our purposeful, results-oriented sights on Washington.