Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Looking Forward

There’s hope for the younger set after all.

MISSOULA, Mont. — This funky college town, nestled along two rivers where five mountain ranges converge, has long been a liberal pocket, an isolated speck of blue in a deeply red state. Now Montana is electing more politicians who lean that way, thanks to a different-minded generation of young voters animated by the recession and social issues.

Sam Thompson, a 22-year-old environmental studies major at the University of Montana here, considers himself “fiscally conservative” but opposes cuts to Medicare; he expects to need health coverage when he grows old. Aaron Curtis, 27, a graduate student, admired Jon Huntsman, a moderate Republican, but could not stomach Mitt Romney’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

Billie Loewen and Heather Jurva, editors at the student newspaper, speak of a Depression-era mentality that is pushing their generation to back Democrats. Saddled with student debt, they worry about health care and are terrified that they will not find good jobs. “You might be just one accident away from losing everything,” said Ms. Jurva, who has worked 40 hours a week waiting on tables to put herself through school.

It is no secret that young voters tilt left on social issues like immigration and gay rights. But these students, and dozens of other young people interviewed here last week, give voice to a trend that is surprising pollsters and jangling the nerves of Republicans. On a central philosophical question of the day — the size and scope of the federal government — a clear majority of young people embraces President Obama’s notion that it can be a constructive force, a point he intends to make in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

These students remind me of when I was in college, now some forty years ago.  The issues were different; the war in Vietnam was still going on, the Cold War was a presence (we had all grown up with “duck and cover” and the fear of the Commies coming over the polar ice cap), but surprisingly, the same issues we talked about then are still a part of the dialogue today: a good job, equal rights, the environment, and putting our collective heads together to solve problems.  And a lot of us, then as now, saw that government could be a force for good in the world despite the bad examples we had back then.  We always believed that the next guy (and it was always a guy) would be the one to make the transformation.

What do the Republicans have to offer?  Ted Nugent.

HT to Melissa.