Saturday, January 30, 2010

Millennials Will Take Over American Music Next

The first Grammy Awards of the new decade are just around the corner. On Jan. 31, the voting committee may crown a new queen of pop music, crossover country star Taylor Swift, and with it signal the musical coming-of-age of the Millennial Generation.

Nominated for eight 2010 Grammy Awards, including record and album of the year, Ms. Swift has already beaten out Michael Jackson for the American Music Award's top trophy in 2009 and won three more at November's Country Music Association (CMA) Awards in Nashville. She's also the youngest person to be named CMA Entertainer of the Year.

Unlike the shocking Gen-X behavior of former headliners like Britney Spears or rappers Eminem and 50 Cent, Swift's personal life is as wholesome as her lyrics.

Her songs have Millennial-like happy endings. "Fifteen," for example, gives advice on how to handle the pressures of being a freshman in high school, a message she wrote with her best friend and her younger brother in mind. It's a change of direction that is speaking to 95 million Millennials, many of whom are already in their 20s.

Millennials were born between 1982 and 2003. In contrast to most baby boomers and Gen-Xers, they love their parents, who are known for boosting the self-esteem of their children and instilling a can-do attitude in each of their special, trophy-winning kids. Swift personifies the Millennial Generation in both her music and her social-networking approach to winning fans.

Tweens and teenage Millennials absorbed the rap and hip-hop music produced by their Gen-X elders during the 1990s, just as the GI Generation during the 1920s initially fell in love with the jazz music so intimately linked to the older Lost Generation. Similarly, boomers first found their rebellious voice in the 1950s in the early rock 'n' roll that came from the Silent Generation that preceded them.

But in each case, as a new generation came into adulthood, it put its own unique stamp on a musical genre that then retained its popularity for two decades as the musical tastes of both the older and younger members of that generation were united. Swift's rise to fame is an early signal that a new musical genre is about to take over America's popular music culture again.

The transition from the Lost Generation's small combo jazz to the GI Generation's big band swing music came with a major slowdown in tempo. Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey delivered a sweeter musical sound that their adoring crowds could dance to, rather than the jarring, syncopated rhythms of early jazz greats like Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong.

The Silent Generation fell in love with the brand-new up-tempo backbeat of Elvis Presley's and Jerry Lee Lewis's rock 'n' roll, but baby boomers put their generational stamp on the genre a decade later with the love-drenched lyrics of guitar groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

We will know a Millennial musical genre has arrived when the songs at the top of the charts represent both a fusion of earlier styles and something completely different.

The Academy Award for best song from a movie has already moved toward this Millennial sensibility. The 2005 winner was the rap song "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," from the movie Hustle and Flow. But last year's Oscar winner, "Jai Ho" from Slumdog Millionaire, combined Indian rhythms with upbeat exhortations celebrating victory throughout the world. Instead of bemoaning the fact that they "done seen people killed, done seen people deal, done seen people live in poverty with no meals," as the group Three 6 Mafia did in that 2005 song, the Bollywood movie looked at very similar conditions and made a hit out of a tune (originally sung in Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, and even Spanish) whose English translation focused on a love affair that promised to make everything better.

The end of an musical era is near when its proponents pronounce its eternal life the loudest. In their 1970s reprise of a 1950s Danny and the Juniors classic, Sha Na Na told "all of you hippies out there in the audience," that "Rock 'n' roll is here to stay. It will never die." In 1979, Neil Young said the same thing just about the time that rap emerged to take rock 'n' roll's place on Top 40 radio play charts.

When Kanye West jumped on stage to protest Swift's victory over Beyoncé for Best Female Video at the MTV Video Music Awards last September, he was foreshadowing just how shocked Gen-Xers will be when their signature genre, rap, drops from the top of the charts as fast as you can say "Napster."

According to the Record Industry Association of America's official tally of music sales by genre, rap's popularity peaked in 2002, just as the first Millennials entered adulthood, and has now fallen to third place behind country and rock in America's musical purchases.

Most members of Mr. West's generation, now in their 30s and 40s, will not react kindly to the mantle of youth being placed on the Millennial Generation, whose optimism and group-oriented behavior represents a sharp break from the alienated cynicism and individual entrepreneurship of Gen-X. They may even manage to deny Swift her crown in this weekend's Recording Academy voting for Grammy Awards in a last gesture of generational hostility.

But having already been named the new queen of pop by millions of fans on social networks throughout the world, it's only a matter of time before Swift and her generation make over America's music as triumphantly as they did its politics with the election of President Obama.

When that moment occurs, it will be the latest and perhaps most definitive sign that the Millennial Era has arrived.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Millennial State of the Union

President Obama's focus on the economy is exactly what Millennials (Americans born between 1982-2003) want to hear. Their generation is experiencing Depression levels of unemployment, higher than any other generation. They deeply believe that the path to a better job leads through a better education. That’s why any Millennial jobs program must begin with the steps outlined in the President’s speech—a revitalization of community colleges, increased Pell Grants and a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college. Those who have graduated from college with unprecedented debt will particularly welcome the President's call to limit the amount they have to repay in any given year based on their income with complete forgiveness after twenty years or only half that time if the engage in public service. And the President's call for a small business hiring tax credit should help give Millennials a chance to earn some money as they enter the toughest job market any generation has faced in twenty-five years. Equally important are his administration’s K-12 education reforms that have attracted bi-partisan support from the parents of Millennials all across the country.

Now the Congress needs to step up to the plate and deliver on Obama's proposals. If Republicans continue to follow their "just say no" approach, they risk losing an entire generation of voters. But Democrats must prove they can govern, and deal with Millennial concerns when they do, if they hope to generate enough enthusiasm from young voters in 2010 to provide Democrats the type of victory Barack Obama enjoyed in 2008. Like First Lady Michelle Obama did during the State of the Union speech, they should put Millennials in the best seats in the House and keep their future uppermost in their minds as they fashion a new economy for these young Americans. It’s time to answer President Obama’s call to do “what’s best for the next generation.”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Use It or Lose It

In spite of incorrect explanations like those of New York Times political columnist Matt Bai that the election of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate resulted from the actions of a fickle electorate dominated by political independents, the loss by Democrats of a long-held Senate seat is really a clear example of the old adage, "If you don't use it, you lose it." That is the lesson that Democrats should draw from last week's special election. The admittedly shocking event in Massachusetts notwithstanding, during the past decade the Democratic Party has assembled a new, and potentially majority, voter coalition. If the Democrats have the awareness and courage to use that coalition in New England and elsewhere across the United States they could dominate American politics and policy making for decades to come.

According to Bai, the American electorate, represented most recently by Massachusetts voters, seems to suffer from political ADD, flitting between "the latest offer" or "the newest best deal" in a society that is constantly "hitting the reset button." But, the victory of Scott Brown was not a matter of a fickle electorate alternating between the two parties in search of something new and different, or even a change in voting preference by Massachusetts independents. Rather, the outcome of last week's special election in Massachusetts stemmed primarily from reduced voter turnout among the state's Democrats. Bai and the Washington punditry might have known this had they even briefly reviewed the survey and election data that is freely and easily available on the Internet.

A posting by Charles Franklin on demonstrated the likelihood that reduced turnout among Massachusetts Democrats led to the victory of Republican Scott Brown and the defeat of Democrat Martha Coakley. Franklin indicates that Brown matched or exceeded John McCain's 2008 vote total in every jurisdiction while Coakley fell below Barack Obama's vote everywhere in the state. Overall, Brown's 1.17 million votes were 106% greater than McCain's 1.1 million in 2008. By contrast, Coakley's 1.06 million votes were only 56% of Obama's nearly 1.9 million votes in 2008. Franklin summarizes what happened this way: "... this doesn't mean that Brown got exactly McCain's voters since lots of individual switching could add up to these totals. But in the aggregate, Massachusetts looks exactly like it did in 2008 on the Republican side. On the Democratic side, a whole lot fewer voters."

Franklin is properly cautious about over-interpreting the aggregate election data. But a post-election poll (pdf) conducted by Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health confirms Franklin's aggregate level conclusions. The Post survey makes clear that the Massachusetts outcome was not the result of a wholesale flow of voters between the parties. The large majority of voters preferred the Senate candidate of the party for which they had voted in the 2008 presidential election. Virtually all Coakley voters (96%) chose Barack Obama and nearly seven in ten Brown supporters (68%) voted for John McCain in 2008.

But, the most unique and interesting aspect of the Post survey is that it interviewed a subsample of Senate race non-voters. While the non-voters fell between the Brown and Coakley voters in their attitudes, they were consistently much closer to the latter than the former on all items. Most tellingly, a large majority of non-voters who had voted in the 2008 presidential election (70%) voted for Barack Obama. Their attitudes toward the president have not declined significantly since his election. A large majority of non-voters (69%) approves of the job Barack Obama is doing as president. A majority (54%) also said they were either enthusiastic or satisfied with the policies of the Obama administration. By contrast, a majority of non-voters (56%) were dissatisfied or angry with the policies offered by congressional Republicans.

A clear majority of non-voters prefer a government that does more to solve problems rather than believing government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals (58% vs. 37%). This preference for activist government is reflected in the attitudes of non-voters about the proposed health care reforms developed by Congress and the Obama administration: a plurality of them supported rather than opposed that legislation (49% vs. 39%). Solid majorities of non-voters believed that the health care reform proposals would either leave themselves and their families, Massachusetts, and the country as a whole either better off or, at least, in the same condition as they are now. Only about one in five non-voters felt that the proposed health care reform program would hurt any of those groups.

The Post survey did not release demographic information and there were no media-sponsored exit polls last week in Massachusetts. Consequently, there is no foolproof empirical way to determine the exact demographic and political composition of those who voted in the special Senate election. But, a survey of likely voters (pdf) taken by Public Policy Polling (PPP) in the last weekend before the election provides a reasonable surrogate.

Of all pre-election surveys, the PPP poll most closely forecast the election outcome. It clearly indicated that the Massachusetts electorate last week contained significantly fewer young voters, minorities, Democratic identifiers and self-perceived liberals than it did in November 2008. All of these were groups that underpinned the president's 62% majority in Massachusetts.

In 2008, according to CNN's exit poll, 17% of the electorate was 18-29 years old and an additional 26% were 30-44. In the 2010 special election those numbers dropped to 8% and 20% respectively. In 2008, more than one in five Massachusetts voters (21%) were minority; last week only 13% were. In the 2008 presidential election, Democrats comprised a plurality of voters (43%). In 2010, just 39% of the electorate identified as Democrats. Finally, in 2008 about one in three voters (32%) was a self-perceived liberal; in 2010 less than a quarter (23%) were.

In reporting on its poll, PPP realized the difficulty that these numbers presented to Democratic candidate Martha Coakley: "Brown has a small advantage right now but special elections are volatile and Martha Coakley is still in this. She just needs to get more Democrats out to the polls." She didn't, and Scott Brown is now a Senator-elect.

What happened in Massachusetts has clear implications for Democrats across the United States. Martha Coakley and her out-of-touch strategists lost touch with what Barack Obama and his creative campaign did to rally a new winning coalition in 2008 and, as a result, lost an election in a state Democrats believed they could not possibly lose. Coakley lost not because the groups in that coalition turned against Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, but because turnout among those groups fell precipitously. If you don't use it, you lose it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lost Generation

this is a brilliant statement by a Millennial who is actually NOT a member of a lost generation. But on point nevertheless. It finished second in the AARP contest. can't imagine what beat it.

Three Strikes and You're Out

The Democrats’ loss in Tuesday’s special election for U.S. senator in the dark blue state of Massachusetts, after losses in Virginia and New Jersey last year, should finally make it clear to all but the party’s most out-of-touch campaign strategists that the only route to victory is to follow the path President Barack Obama took to win in 2008 and quit trying to recreate the politics of the Clinton era. All four Ms — messenger, message, media and money — of the party’s campaign plans must change if it is to win in 2010.

Martha Coakley was the kind of messenger that Democrats used to look for in the 1990s — tough on crime, connected to the party establishment, and with elective experience to command respect. But that formula didn’t work for Hillary Clinton in 2008 and it didn’t work so well this time either. Her background prevented her from running as an anti-establishment candidate and her disconnect from the average voter in Massachusetts can be summed up in one name — Curt Schilling. Future Democratic messengers, like Obama in 2008, will have to have demonstrated their ability to lead change in their community and not take any vote for granted.

That is the only way they will be able to deliver Obama’s message of change and transformation with any credibility. Instead of defending programs or arguing policy, Democrats will need a message that captures the anger and frustration of the electorate and channels that passion into job creation and reform of the existing economic power structure.

Coakley, just like the Democratic gubernatorial candidates who lost last year, also let the technological superiority of Obama’s 2008 campaign flip over to the Republican side. Unlike Democratic campaign strategists still wrapped up in old media tactics and television, the Republicans studied what Obama did to bring the power of online campaigning into the center of a campaign’s strategy, and won the “Internet/Twitter” wars hands down. The TV ads that Coakley did run were off-target, featuring older white voters rather than the young Millennials, African-Americans, and Latinos who were so crucial to Barack Obama’s winning coalition in 2008. Meanwhile Brown put his Millennial daughters front and center in his media.

All of these advantages led to Brown’s ability to raise money at a million dollars a day pace in the final days of the campaign. Obama, indeed Howard Dean before him, showed how to use the Net to raise lots of money from lots of people but only Republicans seem to have learned the lesson.

Perhaps the Democrats should bring David Plouffe back and have him conduct some “re-education camps” for Democratic strategists where they can learn the new four Ms of politics and erase their old ways of doing business from their minds for good.

Monday, January 18, 2010

California's Educational Earthquake

The tectonic plates of the nation's educational debate shifted dramatically in California when its supposedly dysfunctional, lopsidedly Democratic legislature passed the most far reaching educational reform program in the nation, and California's "post-partisan" Republican Governor happily signed it. Going beyond other states' efforts to respond to President Obama's "Race to the Top" competitive grant process, the state pulled the "Parent Trigger" in its legislation. This allows a majority of parents whose kids are attending a "demonstrably failing school" to, in effect, take over that school and change its governance, administration and teaching staff. In so doing, California placed itself in the vanguard of the transformation of America's K-12 education system that will put parents, not teachers or administrators, in the driver's seat in determining the kind of education that their special Millennial children will receive.

Just as we predicted in our book, Millennial Makeover: "Social networks, 'mommy blogs', and other forms of peer-to-peer communications" were the vehicle by which this parent led, bottom-up revolt overturned the power of some of California's most powerful unions to pass what Sacramento insiders considered a hopeless cause. Every time labor and its allies attempted to water down the impact of the Parent Trigger, the opposition melted in the face of thousands of parents asking a simple question, with only one good answer: "Why shouldn't parents get to decide what kind of school their kids go to?" A final compromise limited the number of schools that parents can pull the trigger on to just 75 initially. However, the future of this idea is just as bright as the state's Charter School movement, which started with similar limitations yet today is the governance model for more than 160 schools in Los Angeles alone and with enrollments rising almost 20% in the last year.

The organization behind the Parent Trigger concept, Parent Revolution, gives full credit to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration for creating the incentives that forced the state to consider this reform. Tucked inside the so-called stimulus bill passed last February, was over $4 billion for states and school districts to transform the performance of their schools. States that prohibit linking data on student achievement to principal and teacher evaluations, as California did before it passed this latest round of educational reform laws, were disqualified from even applying for these grants. In addition, those states that capped charter schools or limited alternative certification processes for teachers lose points in the competitive rankings for receipt of the grants. Most importantly, the program established a January, 2010 deadline for state laws to meet four conditions or "assurances" in order to be considered for the largest amount of reform incentive dollars in the last three decades:

1. Adoption of common, internationally benchmarked, standards based on rigorous state assessments.
2. Establishment of systems to track achievement and growth in student learning that identify effective instructional practices.
3. Implementation of a process that rewards and retains top teachers and improves or replaces bad ones.
4. Adoption of a policy on how to replace staff and change the culture of a demonstrably failing school (one whose test scores show no improvement over three years).
The need for money as well as the fourth and final assurance were the drivers behind the legislature's consideration of the idea of a Parent Trigger, but it was the grass roots organization that pushed the legislature into turning back pleas from their usual union allies and enacting this earth-shattering reform. Beginning in Los Angeles, whose "unified school district" (LAUSD) has been a poster child for bureaucratic stubbornness and urban educational woes, the Parents Revolution won the right to fire the principal and half the teachers of a failing school, or, in the alternative, to establish a charter school of their design for their children to attend. Recognizing that each child has $7,000 of potential state funding in their backpack, LAUSD was the first to agree to these demands by parents at both a mostly Latino high school and a more upscale, suburban area middle school. With those successes in their pocket, the group was able to rally parents of all types, from every part of the state, to lobby for the same rights in their district.

Ben Austin, the executive director of Parent Revolution and a long-time political activist on behalf of children, believes it will not be long before the same rights are given to every parent in the country, possibly as part of Congress's reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind legislation next year. As he points out, "the old coalitions don't apply here, it's a cause that unites parents from upper middle class and working class backgrounds-white, black and Latino alike." Or, as we said in Millennial Makeover, parents will learn about and demand:

Models that produce superior results at lower costs and provide the aggregating mechanism for a new, decentralized, parent-controlled, educational decision-making system. Armed with new information on graduation and college acceptance rates of America's high schools, parents will choose the type of education they want for their child, with the money following the child to the school they have selected, not to the school district they live in...The result will be a system of public education that mirrors the egalitarian and community orientation of a Millennial civic era.

For the parents of students attending one of the 5000 lowest performing schools in the country, the changes can't come too soon. With an administration ready to play a critical role in providing the incentives to reform our schools, students, parents, administrators and teachers throughout the nation will soon be feeling the aftershocks of California's educational earthquake.