The damaged economy and country that the Millennial generation is on course to inherit is no mystery, Pete Seat writes.
“It is Keyser Soze,” rather, “standing right in front of us, staring us in the face.”
Seat, a former spokesman for President George W. Bush, uses his new book “The War on Millennials” to explain how the usual suspects — an older generation and an ineffective Washington — have helped put Millennials in an unenviable position for the future. But he approaches the topic from a relevant point of view: as a member of the generation on which the “war” has been waged.
As such, Seat doesn’t let youth off the hook — “It is striking how little attention the Millennial Generation pays to the collision course we find ourselves on today,” he writes — and he lends a voice to what they must do to affect change.
The book’s blunt title and “airing of grievances” with Americans young, old and elected is no reflection of “The War on Millennials'” tone — Seat’s ultimate outlook is hopeful and pragmatic. We emailed back and forth to get more of his perspective. The exchange is below.
(“The War on Millennials” is available through most online retailers, including Amazon for $12.89.)
CD: You mentioned in the book that you wrote this from the vantage point of “a spokesperson for American youth.” That’s really somewhat along the lines of Red Alert Politics’ billing — by and for young conservatives. How do you think this “insider’s” perspective on our generation, so to speak — one that you have — can and should affect the debate about the youth vote?
PS: I’ve long been annoyed (although now it just makes me laugh) by the reaction from the media and political types when new polling about Millennials comes out and they are all shocked by how we think and what we perceive. Part of that is because we aren’t loud enough. We communicate our pop culture and, occasionally, political gripes on social media, but we haven’t yet found a unified voice to say, “Hey, D.C.! Get your act together!” And part of that is because when the topic of how to attract Millennials comes up the powers that be rarely, you know, talk to Millennials. So, considering my past three jobs were that of a spokesperson it seemed only natural for me to assume that role in the book.
CD: And therein lies the disconnect between Washington and the Millennial generation: Washington talks over, around, or, if you count those times we’re taking jumping pictures, below us. The big issues of the day haven’t really prompted us to hike the volume level toward Washington — in fact, a lot of us pretty much can’t stand the place right now but don’t seem inclined to do much about it in November. In steps Pete Seat.
PS: Hi, everybody!
(Sorry, I had to.) Yes, we are disengaged from the process. Millennials are, as you pointed out, not inclined to cast a vote in the midterm elections but can you really blame us? We are looking for ideas. We are looking for results. Washington gives us neither. I think that’s the most misunderstood aspect of the Millennial generation. The conventional “wisdom” is that Millennials focus on the superficial but what gets our attention is ideas and what keeps us engaged is results. Unless those are being offered we will, as we do online, just scroll right on by.
CD: Let’s talk about some of those ideas in a more general sense. Two interrelated quotes in the book stand out to me here: one, “The real establishment is hardly ideological, it is generational;” and two, on the subject of “tweaking” government, “Whenever there is a problem raised the solution tends to be reform. But what Washington really needs is modernization.” Is it this relatively nonpolitical, forward-thinking approach from government that would entice Millennials — and how would partisan politics adapt to it?
PS: I’m not sure the words forward thinking and government have ever been used in the same sentence!
I think one of the first ways partisan politics can modernize is to eschew the culture of labels. Not everyone has to fit snugly into the confines of a strict partisan orthodoxy. This is especially appealing to Millennials considering we are the most diverse generation in the history of America.
Secondly, the generational establishment discounts anything less than what is perceived to be a “big idea.” I mean, I get it. America was founded on big ideas. But we need to embrace tweaking by fine-tuning government in a way that makes it fit modern times. Just the other day I needed help on a project from a Congressional office and was asked to fax the information. FAX!
Finally, we need to look beyond Election Day as crossing the finish line. The purpose of running for office is to effectively govern, not just to win an election. I think that mentality and that follow-thru would speak volumes to a generation of young people who have become increasingly cynical about the process of politics.
CD: You know, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a bill just this month that would let borrowers refinance their student loans. There’s some general bipartisan agreement that the idea itself could be worth considering. But what does Warren’s bill also do? Hike taxes — the same way, in fact, that the president has tried and failed to hike them for three years. So naturally, the bill will fail, and it’ll become about who wants to protect whose tax rates instead of young adults mired in student loan debt. It’s political. Purely.
I don’t want to be too cynical here, but … I believe a wise man once said, “The purpose of running for office is to effectively govern.”
PS: I see what you did there. Well played.
This proposal of hers is really unfortunate. Warren has been an example of a political leader who personifies the “what.” She’s defined herself as someone who attempts to raise the level of discourse on the important issues of the day regardless of whether or not you agree with her prescriptions. However, in this case, she’s not trying to help students as much as use them as political props to score political points in the midst of an election in which her party, if you believe polls, could very well lose their Senate majority.
So she’s clearly advocating policy steps that advance a political goal — that is, trying to maintain a Senate majority rather than reduce the burden of record high student loan debt. It’s too bad, I was really thinking of buying her book just for the fun of it, too.
CD: You could always scan the Cliff’s Notes. Like a true youngin’.
Something that’s evident in this book is that you’re all about advocating policy steps that advance a legitimate policy goal. (What you see is what you get.) You break such steps into a few overarching categories. If you would, tell the audience some key measures you think D.C. could implement that would help, as you put it, “pass the eternal flame of prosperity to its successors.”
That being us, of course.
PS: You make me sound much smarter than I am. Thank you.
What I call the second “act” of the book (Ed: Seat structures the book like a two-act play) focuses on three areas: the economy, the entitlements and the world. It’s my belief that unless we adequately address these areas there’s little hope for other issues.
It all boils down to these words: diversification, preservation, strengthening and cooperation.
We need to diversify our economy away from the “everyone must go to college” mentality to fill existing job openings and create new opportunities. We need to ensure entitlement programs are preserved for those who currently, and are about to, receive benefits and then strengthen the programs for young Americans. And finally, we need to cooperate both diplomatically and economically with our nations in a way that helps us back home (i.e., increasing exports).
CD: This sounds entirely pragmatic — and on the education/workforce front, given the efforts of the likes of Sens. Mike Lee and Rob Portman, for instance, outside the box and “forward-looking.” (Yes, I agree — it can be a bit jarring to write that term.)
Here’s the kicker. How do guys like Lee, Portman and others take the sort of solutions you describe to Millennials — to get them involved and convinced that there’s something in it for them? And there’s gotta be something beyond just going to college campuses. There are the “older” Millennials, too. The decrepit. Like us. (Ed: Your author is 28. A spry 28.)
PS: I think it takes “forward-looking” messaging on the part of everyone in every venue – from college campuses to barber shops to factory floors to entrepreneurial incubators. So much of what we hear today is entirely focused on attracting seniors to the polls. Someone recently said to me that the American people have proven themselves only capable of voting for charisma and personality, that we aren’t able to pick based on policy. My response was, “What do you expect when that’s the only choice we’re given?” Along those same lines, what are we to expect from Millennials when nothing is ever geared towards us?
The policy areas I outlined earlier are all about the future. For instance, tweaking Social Security now won’t change anything for today’s beneficiaries, or even those about 5-10 years from collecting. Those tweaks will, however, determine what type of program exists for Millennials when our turn comes.
CD: Which is always sooner than we think.
(Disclaimer that’s really not necessary but makes me feel better just because: Seat and I are both Hoosiers and we worked for the same member of Congress, though at different points in our careers.)