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The Emerging Generation: Most Liberal Generation Ever?

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In his 2009 book The Death of Conservatism Sam Tanenhaus wrote, "What conservatives have yet to do is confront the large but inescapable truth that movement conservatism is exhausted and quite possibly dead."

When they talk about conservatives, Tanenhaus and others don't mean "Wall Street Fat Cats." Contrary to what most people think, Wall Street (and most big businesses across the U.S.) actually favor leftist causes and throw most of their money behind liberal political candidates. It's one of the weirdest secrets of mainstream liberalism.

No, the kind of conservatism on death watch here is pro-family, traditional-values, small-business-oriented conservatism. And to be fair, there is abundant evidence that recent victories by conservatives are a temporary phenomenon that will be overshadowed in the long run by young adults who are significantly more liberal than previous generations.

Much of the data about the shift from conservatism to liberalism among youth comes from the Higher Education Research Institute, which surveys hundreds of thousands of college freshmen every year and reports on changing trends. HERI says that in 2008 the political involvement of college freshmen was at its highest levels in 40 years, and that the percentage of students identifying themselves as liberals had reached a 35-year high.  According to the report:

•        66.2 percent of college freshmen supported the right to legal marriage for same sex couples
•        60.4 percent agreed with the statement "The wealthy should pay a larger share of taxes than they do now."
•        28 percent support military spending, down from a high of 45 percent in 2002 following the Sept. 11 attacks
 
Is All Hope Gone for Pro-Family, Traditional Values Voters?

The "just so" story is this: traditional values, pro-family conservatives have lost the battle for the culture. The hard left might not be having any children of its own, but it has mastered the ability to indoctrinate other people's kids. They're gone. You lose. End of story.

But is this really so?

I contend that the whole dead-on-arrival pronouncement is simply wrong. In fact, the Tea Party movement and recent conservative victories may actually fuel the biggest conservative boomerang in a century--even among young adults.

Here's why: 18-29-year-olds aren’t settled in their views. As just one example, in the summer of 2009 the Zogby poll found that Barack Obama’s approval rating among 18-29-year-olds dropped by 18% in just one month, from July 24 to August 31. That is some seriously fickle support. Politicians caught with wads of bills in the freezer don’t even drop 18% in one month. It’s the pop culture paradox. Today’s #1 hit is tomorrow’s “I-can’t-believe-I-ever-liked-that-annoying-song.”

So what gives? Actually, it’s pretty simple. The omnipotence of liberal indoctrination has pushed a generation of young adults to the precipice of skepticism. It’s happened before. The vehement denials of God’s existence led a generation of Russians to flock to workshops on Christianity. The ravings of Richard Dawkins persuaded a majority of Americans to hold on to their creationist views. The pomposity of  Al Gore’s pronouncements convinced a generation of Americans to become global warming deniers.

There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Persuasion

The backlash against liberal indoctrination is no surprise to scholars who examine psychology and persuasion. Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson point out in Age of Propaganda that there are two routes to persuasion: peripheral and central. Peripheral persuasion occurs when the one being persuaded is distracted, lazily processes the persuasive message, and makes a mindless decision. The central route is when the one being persuaded carefully considers the merits of the persuasion and the arguments to the contrary, and makes what he or she believes is an informed decision.

The entire liberal indoctrination apparatus is built on peripheral persuasion. The boredom with which the emerging generation processes indoctrination is something to behold. Go to any public school and you’ll see what I mean. “Oh, yay. Another movie on global warming. Good time for a nap.” And “Tee hee, the teacher is going to put the you-know-what on the banana again. What a loser. I’m going to check my text messages.”

History shows that propagandists almost always overplay their hand, and thus the grip they have on their audience is more fragile than it initially appears: witness the near instant spread of freedom movements in spite of the apparently impenetrable communist fortress.

In fact, the pendulum usually swings to the other side very quickly when people realize they’ve been had. If this is so, then among the unthinking liberal youth of today are tomorrow’s most die-hard conservative leaders.

Of course, this assumes that traditional values, pro-family conservatives don't just adopt liberal indoctrination techniques with a reverse message. They'll need to make an articulate, human-centered case for why their views are better for America.

And it is far from certain whether conservatives can do this. Most older adults don't really converse with young adults, period, not to mention converse about real issues. And when they do, it usually more of a lecture than a conversation. If conservatives will actually take time to develop interpersonal relationships with the emerging generation and mentor them, they could reclaim the future in spite of all their bad press.
 
What do you think about all of this? I'd love to see your comments.
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