The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Youthful Ignorance

Posted on | May 4, 2011 | 10 Comments

Megan McArdle observes an important phenomenon:

A significant number of teens didn’t know who Osama Bin Laden was until we killed him. I can’t believe it — and yet I do believe it. I didn’t know what Iran Contra was when I was in high school, and I was a sophomore when it happened. Teenagers live in their own little world, only tangentially connected to the one the rest of us occupy. Today’s high-school freshmen weren’t even in Kindergarten when 9/11 happened. Why would they remember?
I think it’s just as significant in a way that so many of the people celebrating at Ground Zero and the White House seemed to be college kids. These were people who were nine or ten when the towers came down. I wonder if for them, hearing that Bin Laden had been killed wasn’t a bit like hearing that we mowed down Satan, or the Grinch — not the death of a specific person, but striking down the personification of evil in the world.

One of the most pernicious ideas of recent decades — originating in the 1960s “Generation Gap,” but getting worse all the time — is the belief that youth per se has some distinct political value, a belief which in turn involves a willingness to accept pop-culture hipness as actual knowledge.

You saw this attitude displayed, for example, in the mainstream media’s attempt to elevate Meghan McCain as a Republican spokesperson, the apparent thought being: “She is young and is therefore presumably tuned into future trends.” A similar attitude explains the Tiger-Beat-meets-the-Jonas-Brothers enthusiasm for the “Juicebox Mafia.”

What accounts for this attitude? I would argue that it is actually rooted in Baby Boom nostalgia. The ’60s generation remembers when the pronouncements of “youth leaders” like Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman and Mark Rudd were taken very seriously and so, now ensconced in executive positions, they keep looking for the next generation of “youth leaders.”

You want to slap them and say, “Hey, wake up: The Sixties sucked!

Like so many other pet projects of Boomer nostalgia, the endless attempt to recreate the politics of 1968 — which is what all that MTV “Rock the Vote” stuff is about — by seeking out Bold New Voices of Tomorrow’s Leaders is never critically examined. Is it really a wise thing to encourage voting by college kids whose chief occupations are binge-drinking and videogames?

And nothing so clearly marks journalism’s descent into “infotainment” as the idea that what America need is a bunch of hip 20-something pundits telling us what’s what in politics. The dubiousness of that notion ought to have been made clear when it was revealed that one of the seminal projects of these Bold New Voices was the secret propaganda cabal Journolist.

It is perhaps not entirely coincidental that Erza Klein & Co. were all-out for Obama, and that the Juiceboxers never anticipated what a godawful disaster would result from his neo-Keynesian economic policies, considering that none of them are old enough to have lived through Carter-era “stagflation.”

Speaking at the National Journalism Center’s 30th Anniversary Gala in 2007, Ann Coulter was asked by a college-age admirer how to become a pundit and, in answering, Coulter said: “Nobody cares about your opinions when you’re 24. You don’t know anything when you’re 24.”

Yet executives of major news organizations have this Big Idea: “Hey, this blogging stuff, it’s what all the cool kids are doing nowadays. Let’s hire some kids to do that blogging thing for us!” And so we are afflicted with the ignorant opinions of young know-it-alls.

By the way, I’m shocked that Megan McArdle didn’t know what Iran-Contra was, when she was a high-school sophomore when it happened. I remember many historic events that happened my sophomore year in high school (1974-75): Nixon’s resignation, the South Boston busing riots, and the fall of Saigon, to name a few.

But for you youngsters who don’t remember Iran-Contra, here’s what happened: The Democrats tried to help the Soviets win the Cold War by passing a law prohibiting U.S. aid to the courageous Freedom Fighters in Nicaragua. Thanks to a heroic Marine officer named Oliver North, the Reagan administration found a way to circumvent that stupid law. When the Democrats found out — “How dare those tricky Republicans give weapons to people fighting against Marxist totalitarianism!” — they tried to make a big scandal out of it.

Instead, patriotic red-blooded Americans rallied in support of President Reagan. The Commies were defeated in Nicaragua, but eventually got tenured professorships at Ivy League universities.

You can look it up.


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