The scary thing for the Democrats is that Ryan might really appeal to the Millennial Generation—also known lately as the Screwed Generation.
Older Americans, of course, are worried that some Ryan Plan might cut their Social Security and Medicare benefits. The defined benefits approach that guarantees you a certain amount of medical coverage according to your medical condition will be transformed into a defined benefit or premium support plan that guarantees you only a certain amount of money to buy your own coverage. The fear is that the benefit or voucher or whatever won’t be enough to cover your real bills. Another fear is that you really don’t want to be saddled with that much choice—and so that much opportunity to screw up—when your health is on the line.
Similar concerns are raised, of course, when people talk about privatizing Social Security at a time when every conceivable personal investment seems so chancy.
Without quibbling over important details (like the most recent Ryan Plan actually offers people the option of defined benefits), it is impossible to deny that the Ryan intention is to curtail the growth of Medicare. Obama has the same intention. Ryan’s is in the direction of maximizing the effect of market forces in the hopes that consumer sensitivity to cost and the competitive marketplace will allow people to get the coverage they need with government spending a lot less. Obama’s has a much greater place for government planning.
The “Mediscare” part of the Democratic attack on Ryan is already receding in the face of facts. Ryan exempts people fifty-five or over from any reform and is actually more committed to making sure what they get now is sustainable. He’s not going to drastically reduce Medicare spending for the purpose of paying for the new entitlement ObamaCare. There’s a little truth or more to the charge that elderly Americans don’t want their entitlements cut to pay for other entitlements that they don’t, in particular, get. Ryan’s not for that!
There’s the more general concern, which can be supported by some evidence, that Ryan is too hostile to the welfare state as such. He all for “individualism” and against “collectivism,” which means he doesn’t have any sense of social responsibility or “empathy.” I’m quick to add that such criticisms are usually exaggerations. But he really was a selective Ayn Rand fan and may still be, if to an increasingly chastened extent.
Younger Americans—such as members of the Screwed Generation—have assumed that one reason among many they’ve gotten the shaft is that Social Security and Medicare will go broke before they get a dime. They’re not even bitter about that fact. The fact is they’re going to be taxed to pay for benefits the Boomers and such are going to enjoy at their expense.
For the Screwed, Ryan’s good news is that he has a plan for saving the entitlements—for mending them, not ending them. Cutbacks they’ll be. But maybe they’ll be something pretty substantial left for younger Americans if we act now. Maybe the reformed Medicare and Social Security might actually be sustainable, even with the burgeoning birth death, huge government debt, uneven economic growth, and more and more old, frail, and lonely Americans who will be more and more dependent on the young.
And, of course, Ryan’s relative libertarianism, when it comes to economic issues, also fits with the thinking of the young, who seem more aware than their parents that it’s foolish and even degrading to rely much on Big Government to secure one’s own future. They also brag about their freedom and ungratefully slight their dependence on family, friends, and even government.
Kids are going to be kids—but maybe they’re more kid-like than ever these days. I read that thirty is now the new twenty, which means that the young now have some kind of permission to extend feckless adolescence until 29. I’m Screwed! I can’t get a job! I can’t afford to get married! I’m drowning in student debt! I’m moving back home! But I’m still my own person with an unlimited menu of choice.
But Ryan’s Catholic social conservatism, you say, doesn’t resonate with the increasingly unchurched young. Even that’s not that clear to me. It’s true the young have little interest in preserving “traditional marriage.” But studies show that they’re both more libertarian on many fronts and more pro-life than their parents.
If the Ryan choice cuts significantly into the youth gap opened up by the charming and promising Obama, then it’s hard to see how we don’t have President Romney.