Belmont Club

Blow All Tanks

Two articles, one in the Atlantic and the other in the Washington Post, suggest that a sense of crisis has finally struck home and  ‘gone mainstream’ as the saying goes.  Both are long pieces based on anecdotes. The Atlantic’s is called “Profiles of the Jobless: The ‘Mad As Hell’ Millennial Generation”. The other, from the Washington Post, is called “It’s no longer Obama-land in the Hamptons”.

If the Atlantic piece were written a century ago it would have been authored by Wilfred Owen. It’s an ‘anthem for doomed youth’, who are marching not to the machine guns but towards decades of underemployment and probable professional extinction. What they face is the destruction of their human capital, the wastage of their potential, the loss of a chance to both learn and earn more with each year. Gone were the unlimited vistas of former generations. Instead they were looking, at best, at an endless stretch of make-work punctuated only by infrequent and subsistence paychecks.

The subheads tell the story. “I want to blame the universities and grown-ups who should have known better. Instead, like my me-first generation, I blame myself.” “Serving people drinks was more rewarding than this full-time job, and it is killing me inside.” “Serving people drinks was more rewarding than this full-time job, and it is killing me inside.” “I truly regret what’s happening to the Millennial generation but the world shifted out from under them.” “My daughter and I are looking for a job at the same time.” “After hundreds of applications for assistant positions, I received zero calls back.” “I think we’ll go down as a Lost Generation.” “The Baby Boomers’ entire lives have been all take and no give.” etc, etc, etc.

In other words it is bad news.

The people voicing these woes aren’t the Billy Bob Zombies of the previous post. The guys bemoaning their fate are the Golden Youth;  the people who expected to inherit the world. Many of them had until recently believed that they “were the people they had been waiting for.” And now they’re waiting for the phone to ring, waiting for a resume to be noticed, wondering where it all went wrong.

The same kind of sea-change was observed by Richard Cohen in the Hamptons,  a toney kind of place where  Billy Bob Zombie need not apply, not even if he’s a Democrat. Cohen explains in the Washington Post:

Barack Obama has lost the Hamptons.

That sentence is a fat target for ridicule, I know, since the Hamptons are often reviled as the playground of the ridiculously rich and the promiscuously silly — hardly the working-class Democratic base. …

Over the Labor Day weekend, I went to a number of events in the Hamptons. At all of them, Obama was discussed. At none of them — that’s none — was he defended. That was remarkable. After all, sitting around various lunch and dinner tables were mostly Democrats. Not only that, some of them had been vociferous Obama supporters, giving time and money to his election effort. They were all disillusioned.

Let me call the roll. I am talking about are writers and editors, lawyers and shrinks, Wall Street tycoons and freelance photographers, hedge funders and academics, run-of-the-mill Democrats and Democratic activists. They were all politically sophisticated, and just a year ago some of them were still vociferous Obama supporters. No more.

Frankly, I was surprised. The Hamptons are a redoubt of New York liberalism. It is to campaign money what the Outer Banks are to fishermen. I expected more than a few people to defend the president. No one did. Everyone — and I do mean everyone — expressed disappointment in him as a leader.

A number of subsidiary messages are wrapped in this huge bundle of signals. It is still unclear just what they say, but it would be a mistake to think all of them read “vote GOP in 2012”. It is nothing as narrow as that. Most of them probably say in one form or the other, that “we’re not in Kanasas any more”. That the old certainties have passed away. That the post-World War 2 universe is finally over. That the legacy is spent and it’s time to go out and make one’s fortune anew in the world.

This means a crisis in all the old brands and a loss of faith in the finality of the old nostrums. People may no longer just get elections over and done with and go back to work. That doesn’t follow any more in a world without “work”. The situation has changed and so have the political rules. Thus 2012 won’t end things, only punctuate them.

The Tea Party zombies have known the Republican Party has needed an overhaul for a long time. But looking to the Left the Big Tent may also be folding up. Perhaps the loud screeching noises recently emanating from Jimmy Hoffa Jr and the President’s supporters are not the sounds of renewed strength but the sounds of a tired old hull reaching crush depth and straining to hold together. My guess is a fracture line is growing between the framing of the hull — the liberal faithful who believe the President should “go big”, “be a fighter” and “double down” — and those who are buckling under the enormous weight of unemployment. As pressure grows, the plates between the frames get dished in. Perhaps the next few months will see Democratic die-hards bulge in one direction even as their periphery sags in another. The same may be true, to a lesser extent, within the Republican party.

What is unclear, to extend the stress analogy further, is whether things will shake out in a slow and orderly way or whether a change will come sharply, like an implosion; and whether these events will take place before or after 2012.

Option 1: Stimulus works. One trillion dollars creates an emergency surface and all hands parade on deck.  The USS Obama sails into Honolulu with a broom lashed to its shears, having “swept the seas”.

Option 2: Not good.

1. Get 55 gallon drum
2. Fill with 8oz water
3. Heat drum until water boils
4. Close bung
5. Place drum in ice water

“No Way In” print and Kindle edition at Amazon
Tip Jar or Subscribe for $5