Cell Phone Libertarianism

Our faith in the American public has been slightly bolstered by the eight-point drop President Barack Obama has suffered in the latest monthly Gallup poll, although his approval rating remains an unaccountably high 45 percent, and we are particularly heartened to note that the decline is driven largely by a precipitous 17-point drop in the approval of the young folks.
The under-30 cohort’s enthusiasm for Obama has been remarkably stubborn, especially by the dizzying standards of contemporary pop culture crazes, but it is not hard to see why the young generation’s forbearance has at last waned in the past month. All of the most damning facts about the deadly Benghazi fiasco were well known by the time of the election, and the incompetence and dishonesty and disdain for free speech rights apparently made no impression. The revelation of the Internal Revenue Services’ campaign of harassment to stomp out the Tea Party’s dissent was similarly unmoving, as the Tea Party was just a bunch of middle class white people who didn’t want to pay for the young generation’s health care and Obamaphones. News that the Justice Department had treated a Fox News investigation as a criminal conspiracy also failed to trouble the young generation’s conscience, and for some it was a welcome development to have those buzz-kills get pushed around, and the fact that it was also happening to the Associated Press made little impression on people who get their news through Facebook and rarely read newspapers. Even the persistently high youth unemployment rate didn’t seem to faze the young. When word got out that the National Security Agency was snooping through Facebook and cell phone records, though, that was crossing a generational Rubicon.
If you are ever so unfortunate as to find yourself in one of the nightspots favored by the young folks, you’ll immediately note the strange regard they have for their cell phones and tablets and other electronic gizmos. They’ll contantly caress these damnable devices in the palms of their hands, enrapt by the faint light of the high-resolution screens, texting shorthand witticisms to their most beloved hundred or so friends, “googling” the answer to some trivia question about a Saturday morning cartoon from their childhoods, buying over-priced tickets to some second-rate rock ‘n’ roll band’s concert, or God and the National Security Agency only knows what else. Whatever it is that they’re doing on those things seems to be more important than flirting with the nubile and needy-looking young hipster chicks sitting across the booth, and the latest Gallup poll suggests that young folks don’t seem to believe it’s any of the government’s business.
Some conservatives are hoping that this understandable outrage suggests a libertarian streak that the Republican party might appeal to in future elections, but our experience of young people suggests this is wishful thinking. The young people of our acquaintance are mostly inclined to hold very permissive social views on issues ranging from abortion to same-sex marriage to the right to post photos of their cats on Facebook or “tweet” a misspelling of an obscenity, but they do not embrace the red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism and rugged individualism that define libertarianism. They certainly don’t subscribe to the notions of individual responsibility that are just as essential to the libertarian ethic, and they’ve never stopped to consider how economic freedom is essential to social freedom, so they much prefer the goodies provided by an ever-bigger government.
So long as the government can keep the goodies coming, especially during a period of persistently high youth unemployment, the young folks will likely be satisfied with some assurance that the government isn’t keeping a record of their most embarrassing internet searches or awkward post-hook up phone chats. Obama has taken to the airwaves to offer his word that he isn’t Dick Cheney, even as Dick Cheney is taking to the airwaves to defend Obama’s policies, and that might placate the youngsters for a while. Using Dick Cheney as a slur is so five years ago, though, and perhaps the young have grown tired of it. Many of them, we suspect, won’t recognize the reference at all. If the sweet talk to the youngsters doesn’t work, they might even start to notice the persistently high unemployment rates for the young, but unless the Republicans are offering more generous unemployment benefits it probably won’t make difference.

— Bud Norman

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