Hard habits to break

“If you’re a Republican in your youth, you have no heart,” says a silly little conservative saying. “If you’re a Democrat when you’re older, you have no brain.” The trite aphorism might comfort conservatives after watching the 18-to-29-year-old Millennial-generation vote break for President Obama 66-32 in 2008 — but the reality is that once voting trends are established, they’re hard to break.

Ronald Reagan won a commanding 61 percent of the youth vote in 1984, and as a result, Generation X continues to this day to identify more with the Republican Party than any other. Today, Millennials are poised to enter into a long-term alignment with Democrats, a development that will relegate Republicans to minority status, unless the party’s philosophy is radically transformed.

The Republican belief system, at its core, sanctifies the individual, elevating personal success and accomplishment over the well-being of society at large. It’s a selfish outlook, one proudly and openly hostile to empathy as a valid political value. One doesn’t have to look very far to see this hostility in action — witness the conservative talking points against the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

Yet young voters, like most human beings, wholeheartedly embrace empathy. When Daily Kos commissioned Research 2000 to ask adults nationwide whether “empathy” was a value they wanted to see in a Supreme Court justice, 18-to-29-year-olds responded in the affirmative by a stunning 63-17 margin. Even baby boomers lagged behind, at 55-26. Gen Xers, or (roughly) 30-to-44-year-olds, were the most hostile to empathy, clocking in at 47-34 — still a substantial majority.

It’s surely no coincidence that Millennials, the most wired generation in world history, cherish connectedness. MTV beamed music and culture to the entire cohort during their adolescence, while Bravo, BET and other networks created popular shows featuring gays and ethnic minorities, demystifying long-marginalized demographics. The Internet has erased geographic boundaries, and many youngsters have made “friends” across the globe on popular social nets like Facebook and Twitter. It’s no wonder they refuse to demonize entire countries when they’ve long maintained friendships with students in so many nations. And while Republicans rage against engagement with Iran or Democrats or any of their enemies du jour, young adults have a strong faith in the power of dialogue.

That Millennials found a home in the Democratic Party is no surprise. The Research 2000 survey found that Democrats endorsed empathy as a valuable governmental value by a 73-12 margin. Republicans opposed it by an 18-56 margin.

Could Republicans become a more empathetic party? Could they put themselves in the shoes of gay Americans and realize the rank unfairness of anti-gay discrimination? Could they start understanding how innocent villagers might react to American warplanes and missiles? Could they begin to understand that George Bush’s heavy-handed foreign policy created more resentment and enemies than constructive engagement would have? Could they realize that marginalized minorities face challenges that white males often avoid?

Sure. Around the same time that Millennials shelve their iPhones and Wi-Fi and start handwriting letters to National Review.

The fact is that Republicans are the party of white privilege and entitlement, representing everything young voters reject — intolerance, thoughtless aggression and a heartless focus on individual success rather than societal betterment. Until that changes, Millennials won’t vote Republican.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos