Tuesday, April 22, 2003

The Dream Palaces and Joey Tabula-Rasa: David Brooks, a keen armchair sociologist, takes a look at the world through the eyes of a 20-year-old student:
Joey likes to think of himself as fundamentally independent. He looks at the people living in their dream palaces--the Arabists, the European elites, the Bush haters--and he knows he doesn't want to be like them. He doesn't want to be so zealous and detached from reality. He's not even into joining political movements at home. But he is less independent than he thinks. He has started to acquire certain assumptions over the past months, which will shape his thinking in years to come. As a rule, these assumptions are the exact opposite of the assumptions he would have formed if he had been watching the Vietnam war unfold. His politics will be radically different from those of the Vietnam generation.
And radically different, I guess, from anything else. If I had a hope, it would be that Joey and his pals will be able to synthesize. Party affiliation, like choosing a brand of beer, is an identity marker of a different generation. (The GOP, the "young" party of the two majors, is a century and a half old.) As recent elections have shown, the vast middle is where the votes are to be found in the general election, and an amazing number of votes are in play for both parties. Pundits like to talk about "soccer moms," but in reality, the center is a kind of "everyone else" pool: small-government types who don't self identify with the GOP on issues like abortion or school prayer; progressive thinkers who realize that the trajectory of history has consigned many systems of public affairs to the dump while the free market has been reasonably successful; environmentalists who know that private ownership breeds benevolent stewardship of resources, while the "commons" paradigm encourages misuse, overgrazing/fishing, and blame shifting. Maybe Joey's generation will be the last to suffer, or the first to do away with, the moribund political categories that stifle and distort the political debate.

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