Biden and the Millennials
Joe Biden may give Donald Trump a run for his money in the race for irreverence. Trump slaughters sacred cows of propriety like a walleyed abattoir worker with a bolt gun. But gaffe-prone Biden once again proved that savoir-faire isn't his strong suit, and it may cost him a key Democratic Party demographic.
No, I'm not referring to his blue joke about being a politically apathetic college jock, when he and his rakish peers had only two concerns: "jobs and panty raids." That comment may leave #MeToo adherents miffed, but it's endearing enough to make the Scranton-born V.P. competitive in Pennsylvania.
The quip in question is Biden's depiction of Millennials. Tired of the endless tirades about toxic Boomerism, Biden took America's self-pitying young adults to task for their woe-is-me fatalism. "The younger generation now tells me how tough things are. Give me a break. No, no, I have no empathy for it," he insisted in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, lifting his approval rating a tick or two in Sumter County, Fla.
File photo, 2017.
Ordinarily, it's wise to pay lip service to the grievances of an audience you're wooing. It's what Democrats learn at their party-sponsored junkets: do like Bill Clinton and profess to feel voters' pain, no matter how incongruent the circumstances. You're an aging white male being told by a young black man that he's tired of being racially profiled by police? Good! Claim to have a half-minority cousin, or better yet, a "good friend," who grouses frequently about the same thing. Say you grok him, then ask for a donation to end the morally depraved practice. Rinse, repeat, cash the check.
Biden, who commands majority support from all Democratic demographics except Millennials, isn't devising a Napoleonic strategy to capture the last outstanding territory in his massive coalition. His refusal to mollycoddle Millennials in their nursed resentment shows he's leaving that part of the party to Bernie. It's a gamble worth taking, given the power divide between those who experienced the Kennedy assassination and those who've only read about it in history books.
On Twitter, the contrived public square for Millennials too lazy to leave their bedsits, the indignation was raw and intemperate, a 280-character tempest in birdie-embossed teacup. "Joe Biden is severely detached from reality," fumed a HuffPost contributor. "Biden should have really thought about the millennial vote before saying he has no empathy for them," lectured one Trump-hater.
Much of the outrage was directed at New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, a token conservative at the Gray Lady, who praised Biden's dismissal of young victimology. Stephens's complimentary column brought Biden's comments to the fore, proving in the minds of many progressives that Biden is too Republican-Boomer-friendly to be trusted. And it provided fodder for Millennials to do what they do best: feel bad about themselves.
"Do you think the thought has ever dawned on Bret Stephens that young people are mourning the loss of a future that his generation has burned up gleefully in front of our eyes?" wailed a progressive journalist. One jokester made an attempt at a geriatric gibe, only to engage in ageism: "I just [G]oogled how old Bret Stephens is and 45 is too young to be 'old man yells at cloud' age" The reference, if you aren't culturally swotted up enough to get it, is from The Simpsons, specifically the ornery Grandpa Simpson, whom Bernie Sanders increasingly channels in appearance and demeanor.
Stephens struck a nerve for the same reason Biden did: the characterization of Millennials as too sanctimoniously sensitive is apodictic. Millennials can't respond to it without proving it. In most cases, they lack the historical knowledge or moral breadth to explain why the current time period is harsher than any in the past.
A brief review of America's accomplishments circa 2019 is revealing: slavery is abolished; modern dentistry is widely available; indoor plumbing is standard; polio is rare; no world war has broken out in half a century; dysentery is a meme rather than a common affliction; men no longer have to wear powdered wigs and spatterdashes to appear respectable; women are manumitted from the constricting tyranny of the bodice. All in all, Americans have never had it so good.
As David Harsanyi points out, Millennials lack the wealth accumulation, and thus prosperity, of their parents mainly because of the choices they make. Delaying marriage and putting off buying a home stunt the growth of personal equity. Compounded interest is a modern financial marvel, but tying the knot and combining incomes is the oldest wealth-multiplier in the world.
Older Americans understand this. It's why Biden's lack of fellow-feeling with Millennials will be a plus in his column when it comes to consolidating the older Democrat vote. Young tweeters trying to do down the V.P. over his comments will find no resonance outside their already piqued peer group.
Trump won despite the scorn of twenty-somethings. Biden can do the same, as long as he doesn't make the same mistake he's been making after every comment that cuts into Trump's truculent persona. Threatening to take Trump "behind the gym and beat the hell out of him" was the pugnacious rhetoric Democrats long to hear. The problem is, he didn't stick to it. When rhetorical push came to rhetorical shove, he bowed out and apologized. The same happened to Anita Hill, whom Biden excoriated during the Clarence Thomas hearings but later regretted treating like an accuser instead of a glass doll.
Saying sorry gets you nowhere in politics. If Biden is considering revising his contemptuous comments about Millennials, he should forget about it. Standing his ground will make him the only adult in the Democratic field.
Photo credit: Doug Jones for Senate (cropped).