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The Rise of the Entitled Millennial Politician

"Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with young people running for office... But simply being young does not mean one has access to the fountain of all wisdom. One must also have good political views."

Joe Kennedy III speaks during a Remembrance and Celebration of the Life & Enduring Legacy of Robert F. Kennedy event at Arlington National Cemetery on June 6, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for RFK Human Rights )

Millennials are getting old. Our bones are starting to creak, we get more random aches and pains, we get hangovers infuriatingly easily, and going to bed early increasingly sounds like a wonderful Friday night plan.

On the other hand, we are also reaching the age of power and influence. And so the world is getting a taste of the most obnoxious type of millennial personality: the ambitious apple-polisher. Witness the rise of Pete Buttigieg and Joe Kennedy, two perfect examples of the type — men who think it all should just be handed to them.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with young people running for office. More of us should be doing it, all across the country. But simply being young does not mean one has access to the fountain of all wisdom. One must also have good political views. In part because millennials have gotten the worst of American capitalism ground into our faces like a handful of broken glass over the past decade, we are by most measures the most left-wing generation in American history — save the Zoomers who are coming up behind us.

But we're not all like that. There are racist conservative millennials, and there are moderate Third Way millennials, and there are millennials who seem to care about little but power and their careers. As Current Affairs' Nathan Robinson writes, Mayor Pete's own book suggests he is one of the latter type. He's a guy who went from Harvard straight to McKinsey, "the world's most sinister and amoral management consulting company." He expressed no serious qualms about that experience in his book, nor much interest in the plight of the poor black residents of South Bend, Indiana where he was subsequently elected mayor.

Then there is his stint in Afghanistan in 2014, done during a sabbatical from his mayoralty. There is something off about a serving mayor who goes to do a single tour of duty in military intelligence for an obviously doomed, hideously bloody occupation — unless, that is, the point was to simply add a line to his resume.

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Additionally, while there is such a thing as a person being too aged and infirm to be a good political leader, there is also something to be said for experience. Even a genius like Napoleon took years of practice to reach his full potential as a military leader. Being president of the United States is one of the most difficult, demanding positions in the world. It takes stupendous arrogance to think one can just pick it up on the job after running a city less than half the size of Spokane, Washington for a few years.

Yet, at a time of perhaps the greatest age divide in American politics, the youngest presidential candidate is on the right of the field, and the oldest is furthest to the left (which is conversely why Bernie Sanders racks up such enormous margins among young people). But Mayor Pete is not running to represent his generation. He is running as the good, obedient lad who flatters the biases and prejudices of old people who have the money and power. He has turned out to be one of the strongest fundraisers in the field, almost entirely due to his popularity among the ultra-rich.

That brings me to Joe Kennedy (who at age 38 just qualifies for millennial status, depending on who you ask). To be fair, he is a much more traditional politico — getting elected to the House of Representatives in 2012, and only now attempting to primary Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.). The problem is not his trying to step up another rung on the ladder, but who he is trying to displace, and why. Markey is one of the most reliably progressive senators. He co-sponsored Sanders' Medicare-for-all bill and was the primary sponsor of Green New Deal legislation. Kennedy also supports both, but dragged his feet for years on Medicare-for-all — and also opposes marijuana legalization.

Unlike Mayor Pete, Kennedy's politics are not terrible, but his only real argument for taking Markey's seat is "my name is Kennedy." Indeed his attempted pole-vault could easily turn out to be a tactical blunder. It looks increasingly likely that Elizabeth Warren (the other Massachusetts senator) will be on the 2020 Democratic ticket in some fashion, in which case she will probably resign her seat before November so the special election to replace her can take place alongside the presidential one (so the Republican governor Massachusetts "liberals" are inexplicably fond of installing won't get to pick a replacement). In that case Kennedy would be all but guaranteed to walk into the open seat, and he wouldn't have to stomp on a loyal progressive in the process.

All this makes for an interesting contrast to a recent article about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), another millennial who has gotten no end of abuse for attempting to actually stand up for her generation, and ended up having to trim her rhetorical sails somewhat. Be wary of any aspiring leader who doesn't stir up at least some trouble.

Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at TheWeek.com. His work has appeared in the Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post.

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