It was telling that when President Obama unveiled his latest proposal to restrain student debt earlier this week, Senate Republicans initially fired back not with a criticism of the plan itself but with a release that cataloged an array of grim statistics on young people's experiences in the economy. The exchange captured the contrast between the approaches Democrats and Republicans are using to court the massive millennial generation, whose electoral influence is steadily expanding.
Obama's new effort to cap student-loan debts illuminated a Democratic strategy of pursuing the millennial generation by offering them programs and policies that align with their views. The Senate Republican response shows a GOP that is courting millennials around a broader argument centered on the economic struggles many of them are facing.
It's the political equivalent of philosopher Isaiah Berlin's famous distinction between the fox and the hedgehog. Like the fox, Democrats say millennials agree with them on many things. Like the hedgehog, Republicans say Democrats are failing millennials on the one big thing that matters most: providing them economic opportunity.
So far, Democrats have gotten the better of the argument. As the first millennials have moved into the electorate since 2000 (the generation is best described as the 90 million-plus young people born from 1981 through 2002), Democrats have enjoyed a consistent advantage with younger voters. In 2008, Obama won two-thirds of voters under 30. His advantage slipped in 2012, but he still carried three-fifths of them.