This was not a banner year for youth voter participation. To be fair, off-year elections never are, but this year's mere 12 percent participation rate of voters under 30 is about more than midterm ennui. Rather, it's part of a larger trend of millennial disenchantment with the Washington establishment in both major parties — a trend that is primed to kick into high gear if we have a Bush vs. Clinton contest in 2016.
Unfortunately, that contest is not so difficult to imagine. While Jeb Bush, brother of George W. and former governor of Florida, has yet to declare his candidacy, his son seems to expect the declaration to be forthcoming. Hillary Clinton, of course, has been unofficially campaigning since...well, to be charitable let's say since she left the State Department last year.
As even endorsers of this prospect seem to admit, this matchup offers nothing new. Recent comments from Bush II are instructive: Earlier this month the former president said he'd like to see Bush vs. Clinton in 2016, admitting that running against Hillary — herself an all-too-well-known quantity — might be the one way Jeb could avoid being handicapped by his name. If the kids don't want broccoli, show 'em how good it looks compared to Brussels sprouts.
W may feel favorably toward Bush vs. Clinton, but his view is not widely shared. As my colleague here at The Week, Damon Linker, has noted, this possibility is "almost enough to make me wonder why we don't just scrap the pretense of the United States being a democracy at all and instead embrace the truth — that, at least when it comes to the nation's highest office, we're now a nepotistic oligarchy."
Even Barbara Bush, mom to George and Jeb, has voiced opposition, commenting, "I think it's a great country, there are a lot of great families, and it's not just four families or whatever. There are other people out there that are very qualified, and we've had enough Bushes."
Her math is a little fuzzy, but her point is well taken: Bush vs. Clinton would guarantee that the White House be occupied by just three families for 32 years straight.
If increasingly politically independent young people are unenthusiastic about politics now, imagine their disinterest in choosing between two candidates who literally embody the status quo.
Because we are nothing if not independent. Fully half of millennials reject all party labels, which is the most intense generational political disaffiliation in the 25 years Pew Research has measured it.
It's not that we're apathetic. While much has been made of the need for candidates to market to millennials — and certainly both iterations of the Obama campaign benefited from this sort of digital savvy — we're not skipping the voting booth because we want more shiny YouTube clips. On the contrary, we want to change the world; we just don't see government as a viable partner in that project.
As a survey from Harvard revealed last year, strong majorities of millennials believe that most politicians govern for "selfish reasons," and that elected officials don't share our priorities. And just 16 percent could disagree with the statement that "politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing."
Ultimately, "millennials don't feel limited by brand loyalty — true in the marketplace of goods and services as well as politics." In fact, we don't feel limited by loyalty to political participation at all, particularly when we believe that the options on hand won't produce real change.
Bush III vs. Clinton II offers exactly such an insipid choice. They're equally part of dynasties that have waged endless, aimless war; spiked the national debt; expanded the invasive surveillance state; maintained the failed and racist drug war; frequently flouted the rule of law; and given out special favors and bailouts to friends in big business. From war to domestic surveillance, from drugs to Wall Street, there's no evidence that these heirs apparent(ish) will significantly change course.
Bush vs. Clinton really is the perfect way to make us hate politics even more. At a gut level it feels aristocratic and distinctly un-American. At a policy level, picking between the previous decade's leftovers isn't much of a choice. And at a practical level I can't help but think that my time will be better spent outside the voting booth than in it, pulling a lever for more of the same. Like much of my generation, I'd rather "take problems on in real time and fix them" — which isn't exactly the government's forte.
Or I suppose I could take the long view and start studying up for 2032. I'm sure George P. Bush and Chelsea Clinton will run a very competitive race.