So if the Democratic electorate is tilted toward the young, the Democrats' leaders are tilted toward the old. And I think this matters at a time when, as scholar Walter Russell Mead writes in The American Interest, "The core institutions, ideas and expectations that shaped American life for the 60 years after the New Deal don't work anymore, and the gaps between the social system we've inherited and the system we need today are becoming so wide that we can no longer paper them over or ignore them."
Mead is looking back on the America of World War II and the postwar decades, when American life was dominated by the leaders of what I have called the Big Units -- big government, big business, big labor. The assumption was that these units would grow ever bigger, to the benefit of ordinary people.
That assumption was shared by the Democratic leaders of the just-departed 111th Congress, who grew up in Big Unit America. They passed a $787 billion stimulus package on the assumption that big government would put people to work. They passed the health care bill on the assumption that centralized experts in big government could provide better care at lower costs. The voters in November 2010 rejected those assumptions. It's not clear whether congressional Republicans can advance policies more in line with the changed character of our society. And it's an open question whether they can reach agreement on any important issues with Barack Obama, who is a generation younger than most of his party's leaders in Congress.
The Democrats' congressional leaders will defend the Obama agenda to the extent possible. But can they take their party in a somewhat different direction than the one voters rejected in November?