Opinion, Political Column

Millennials and Politics: Meet millennial-friendly Elizabeth and Rand

This series on millennials has examined the difficult question of why young people have become disengaged from the American political system, their political ideology, and finally a path by which the Republican party can better align itself with that ideology. The final piece centers on the competitive bidding process that must reach out directly to millennial voters, and the candidates who currently represent the best of this system.

Last week’s article concluded with an argument that may seem like a stretch: the way to woo millennials into political participation depends on a competitive two party system, one in which both political parties present compelling options for a generation of voters so accustomed to having choices in other aspects of their lives, like in the marketplace. It is in an aspiring politician’s interest to build support among young voters, and some already are.

Now that the case for a competitive “bidding process” – in other words, a two-party system where candidates support millennial-friendly positions – has been made, readers should have a chance to meet two of the highest bidders.

In 2012, Massachusetts voters unseated their incumbent senator, Scott Brown, in favor of the progressive, Democratic candidate, Elizabeth Warren, a former Harvard professor. Ever since, Warren has been considered a rising star within the Democratic party, to the point of being appointed to the Senate leadership team after serving in that body for less than two years.

Elizabeth Warren
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

Much of this success is due to Warren’s aggressive support of policies that appeal to millennial voters. Darcy Bullock of PolicyMic wrote last year that “millennials should be impressed with Warren’s willingness to go to bat on their behalf in terms of student loans…” The Progressive’s Ruth Conniff echoed this point, arguing that “Warren’s leadership on student debt relief is a big reason young people are attracted to her: she speaks to one of the very most important issues on their minds.”

Now, Sen. Warren has given every indication that she will not seek the presidency in 2016. Even so, she could still advance within the party, perhaps replacing the unpopular Harry Reid (D-NV) as Senate minority leader. Regardless, Elizabeth Warren is a crucial figure in the Democratic Party’s appeal to millennial voters.

There is one Republican candidate who has been incredibly active in reaching out to young people ahead of a possible bid for the presidency. The junior senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, “is making a smart play for the millennial generation that was key to President Obama’s twin victories and that his own party has convincingly repelled,” according to Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post. In order to do this, Sen. Paul sometimes does not even “sound like a Republican”; Marcus wrote last March of the senator’s willingness to discuss racial bias in the criminal justice system.

Rand Paul
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY)

The Kentucky senator’s efforts may even put him at odds with the traditional Republican base; Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote that Paul “is preparing a 2016 presidential run based on a gamble that his libertarian policies can appeal to young people and minorities.”

As Warren is to Democrats, Paul is to Republicans. The senator from Kentucky is essential to any attempts by the GOP at reaching out to millennials, largely due to his presentation of a political ideology that appeals to more young voters.

Compare Elizabeth Warren and Rand Paul, two figures who could represent the sort of fresh, competitive politics that millennials seek, to two potential front-runners in the race for the presidency: Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. The Week’s Bonnie Kristian vehemently opposed a Clinton-Bush matchup when she argued last November that “if increasingly politically independent young people are unenthusiastic about politics now, imagine their disinterest in choosing between two candidates who literally embody the status quo.” Kristian even went on to write, “Bush vs. Clinton really is the perfect way to make us hate politics even more.”

We see, therefore, that the year 2016 could represent a sort of turning point in the relationship between millennials and American politics.

Will the post-2016 political climate resemble the socially tolerant, fiscally conservative environment that many young voters desire, or will it continue to alienate, disappoint, and even ignore them?

This is the sort of question that does not just impact the millennial generation, but many generations to come.

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