Many of the speakers who come to Northwestern start off their talks by mentioning some canned anecdote about the last time they were here or about what happened to them in O’Hare; on Monday conservative talk radio host and Medill alumnus Guy Benson started his College Republicans-sponsored talk on “The Obama Generation: Lost to Liberalism?” by reminiscing about a sociology class he took in the very classroom that he was now opining in.
Although Benson could still easily be mistaken for the journalism student who worked at WNUR and lived in PARC for two years, he was obviously in command of the 30 or so students and older listeners who came to hear his optimistic case for why “Millennials” –- aka 18 to 29-year-olds –- who overwhelmingly voted for Obama in 2008 could possibly become conservatives. Benson, who makes a point of being almost disarmingly optimistic and sunny, spent a great deal of his talk poring over poll results which he thought showed the possibility of a rightward shift among young voters.
Talking about his gloomy attitude following the 2008 election, Benson relayed how the results made him fear that young people had rejected the three pillars of conservative politics in the U.S. -– fiscal conservatives, hawkish national security policy and social conservatives. But even though Obama had “inspired millions of younger voters to shed apathy and cynicism towards politics” and even supported him with a “devotion that bordered on creepy,” Benson felt that not all was lost for conservatives.
He spent the rest of his talk detailing this argument with a raft of empirical data and polling results that, while not the most exciting for an audience that included a good number of tea party attending talk radio devotees, certainly fleshed out Benson’s intuition.
Benson also shared some of his own experiences as a student that led him to believe that Millennials just might be conservatives, including a debate on abortion when he lived in PARC where “people were unexpectedly on different sides” and three female students even admitted to becoming more sympathetic to the anti-abortion side. But like all of his anecdotes, which he admitted were intrinsically “hopelessly biased,” this one was supported by polling data which showed that 48 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds wanted abortion to be “mostly or totally illegal” and that a plurality of young voters described themselves as pro-choice.
His strongest case for why Millennials would come to reject Obama and his policies, however, was based on economics. He shared an anecdote from Heritage Foundation data cruncher William Beach that, according to his numbers, every single Millennial would pay the equivalent of a brand new iPod every month for the rest of their lives to pay off debt created by the stimulus bill.
Benson’s remarks ended, however, on a more ambivalent note. Despite Republican electoral gains in 2009, especially wins in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia, Benson said that the 2010 midterms “will not be a cakewalk” and that, after Republican blowouts in 2006 and 2008, conservatives will “need to work tirelessly to win back that trust.”