Those of a certain age will remember “hearts and minds”—both LBJ’s words (“the ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds of the people who actually live out there”) and the powerful film by Peter Davis.

Today, it is the Right that is conducting a battle for the hearts and minds of young Americans.

There is, of course, the Opt Out campaign waged by the Koch brothers-backed group Generation Opportunity, urging Millennials not to sign up for insurance on the health care exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.

And then there’s Stan Druckenmiller, the billionaire fund manager, who is traveling around the country visiting college campuses.* His goal is to scare young people into believing that (a) there’s a debt explosion coming, which will ruin the country, and (b) the primary causes of the growing debt are entitlement programs, which means that seniors are stealing from the young. This is the Tea Party-inspired generational theft meme I’ve written about before.

According to the generational theft campaign, the dramatic lowering of the poverty rate among the nation’s senior citizens (via Social Security and Medicare) represents not progress but, instead, the cause of an approaching apocalypse, as Baby Boomers begin to retire and more claims on made on those programs. There’s no discussion, of course, of why the federal debt is a problem (just some large scary numbers), and alternative means of containing the debt, such as raising tax revenues from large corporations and wealthy individual) are derided (because, in his view, rich people would simply stop working).

During his most recent presentation, Druckenmiller made much the same argument to scare his young audience, and then invoked the memory of the anti-Vietnam War movement:

“My generation, we brought down the president in the 60’s because we didn’t want to go into the war against Vietnam,” he said. “People say young people don’t vote, young people don’t care. I’m hoping after tonight, you will care. There is a clear danger to you and your children.”

Put aside for the moment the obscenity of comparing the carpet-bombing of the Vietnam War to the strains associated with the federal debt. The fact is, the federal debt is not out of control (not now and not for the foreseeable future). And the existing programs for the elderly—those who are currently retired and those who will be leaving work in the coming decades—should be expanded, not cut back. It can be done if we begin to seriously discuss and address the instabilities and inequalities created by current economic arrangements.

As it turns out, the next evening, the inaugural Chuck Craypo memorial lecture featured a panel discussion with Nelson Lichtenstein and Dan Schlademan on Wal-Mart. They demonstrated to the young people in attendance what they should really fear is living a world that is being remade in the image of retailing giants like Wal-Mart. It’s that prospect, and not the supposed conflict between generations, that should really capture their (and our) hearts and minds.

*Disclaimer: I don’t remember him but Druckenmiller apparently graduated from Bowdoin College the year before me. Here’s a link to Julia La Roche’s description of Druckenmiller’s presentation at his alma mater a few months ago.

  1. dlarsson says:

    Stan spent a lot of time playing late night poker, so he wasn’t around in the daylight hours much. During the summer of 1975, he and Larry Lindsay ran a hot dog stand (on behalf of Kennebec Fruit Stand) on the Mall on Maine Street.

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