David Brooks' Millennial Misunderstanding

David Brooks has a new op-ed over at NYT comparing Elena Kagan to my generation, The Millennials. Here's the crux of his argument:

"I have to confess my first impression of Kagan is a lot like my first impression of many Organization Kids. She seems to be smart, impressive and honest--and in her willingness to suppress so much of her mind for the sake of her career, kind of disturbing."

I spent the last two months working under Atlantic Media Political Director Ron Brownstein with a few other "Organization Kid" journalists on a comprehensive study of the Millennial Generation, and I found Brooks' conclusions (on my generation more than Kagan's personality) overly harsh and rather unfair. He criticizes us as a generation for being risk averse--which we are, and should be.

While many in my generation may well be wary of taking any controversial stances and public embarrassment, this is largely due to the increasingly highly competitive, "big brother" nature of our world. We were brought up with zero tolerance policies for everything from drugs and alcohol to political protests in school, faced the most competitive college admittance process ever and graduated into the worst economic situation for young people in nearly 80 years: Polling we recently conducted with Allstate shows that bad economy has, indeed, made Millennials more risk averse. Add to this the constant scrutiny by both companies and colleges of our online profiles, the proliferation of "gotcha" monitoring of personal correspondence, and the increasing difficulty to keep our social lives private and separate from our professional ones in all facets, and it is easy to see why we are so risk averse.

Still, we Millennials have been the main agitators for the gay rights movement, and worked hard to elect Obama. Are we risk averse? Definitely, and for good reason--we have much less room for error than any previous American generation, due to both the economy and the constraints that society (e.g. older generations) have placed upon us. But to say that we shy away from speaking out when things matter to us is simply not true. I hope the fact that I've written this, a young punk journalist taking on one of the establishment's most esteemed minds, shows that I, and others in my generation, are willing to take a stand when we or others are unfairly stigmatized.
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Cameron Joseph is a staff reporter (politics) for National Journal.

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