Out with the old ... in with the elderly.
That's how this New Year is shaping up. After two years with a youthful president and a Democratic Congress brought to power on the strength of a youth vote, 2011 figures to be the Revenge of the Geezers -- here in Pittsburgh and across the country.
As about a thousand other "year-end wrap-up" articles will no doubt observe, politically speaking, 2010 was all about the Tea Party. And the shift in the political climate is hardly surprising, once you consider that according to a New York Times/CBS poll, nearly half of self-identified Tea Partiers were old enough that either they or someone in their household was receiving Social Security benefits. (The percentage among non-Tea Party poll respondents was closer to a third.)
And yes, it's ironic that Tea Partiers -- so renowned for opposing government handouts -- could be getting more Social Security checks than the rest of us. No more ironic, though, than seeing conservatives blasting big deficits ... and attacking Democrats, like Pennsylvania Senate hopeful Joe Sestak, with ads that accuse them of endangering Medicare. If anything counts as "socialized medicine" in this country, Medicare does -- and it may be the biggest budget-buster government faces. But it benefits seniors, and since those oldsters vote, even Republicans won't urge cuts. What they campaign on, then, is socialism for the elderly, capitalism for everyone else.
Nor is it any surprise that for today's conservatives, the primary economic threat is not job creation but inflation, and the government deficits they fear may cause it. Inflation, after all, eats into savings and investments the elderly rely on ... whereas job creation benefits only those young enough to work. (Earlier this year, the Economic Policy Institute found that unemployment rates for workers 18 to 24 typically run twice the national average.)
On the state level, Republicans are seizing every branch of government. What will that mean for young people? Some things couldn't get much worse: The state already ranks near the bottom for supporting higher education, for example. And governor-elect Tom Corbett has at least put college educators -- including University of Pittsburgh chancellor Mark Nordenberg -- on an advisory transition team. On the other hand, given Corbett's no-tax-hike pledge, it's hard to imagine things getting better ... and this week The Wall Street Journal used California University of Pennsylvania as the poster child for tuition hikes. (To offset a decline in attendance in poor students -- who can no longer afford even a state school -- the university is contemplating higher tuition for better-off students.)
And where social issues are concerned, state Republicans seem poised to embrace a social agenda that is increasingly out of step with young people. Witness the appointment of state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe to the House State Government Committee. That post will allow Metcalfe to pursue items on his agenda, like divisive anti-gay initiatives, or challenging Barack Obama's citizenship in the 2012 election season.
It goes without saying that Metcalfe is a global climate-change denier: Denial is nearly universal amongst Republicans, up to and including our Senator-elect Pat Toomey (who concedes the earth is warming but questions whether humans are responsible). At best, we're facing a two-year hiatus in dealing with a crisis that an overwhelming number of scientists, and a majority of Americans, believe is coming. But if you're old enough to appear in a political ad -- and ill-informed enough to respond to one -- you may not be worried about when the bill comes due.
And then there's Pittsburgh, where a high school student can end up bruised and bloodied after an encounter with three police officers ... and still be waiting, nearly a year later, to find out whether any charges will be forthcoming. We're about to learn just how painful it will be to bail out the city's pension fund. How much will it cost workers and residents of today to pay for promises made to the city employees of yesteryear? Last year, you may recall, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl proposed a tax on college tuition to accomplish that goal: So far, local officials haven't agreed on a more palatable idea. (City Council has proposed a last-minute solution as this issue goes to press: I'll believe it when I see it.)
But the news isn't all bad for young Pittsburghers. State Republicans may actually be serious about scrapping state liquor stores, and making it easier to buy booze.
Just in time.