Yesterday, Congressman Aaron Schock announced he was resigning from Congress effective March 31, 2015. This is the consequence of a terrible month of press for Schock that culminated in the revelation that the Congressman had sought reimbursement for 90,000 more miles than his car had ever driven. Schock’s largesse, documented via his, now strikingly-out-of-touch, Instagram photos, included private trips from donors, high-end stays abroad, and refurbishing his Congressional office like the popular BBC program, Downton Abbey. Schock, famous for his good looks and early “Men’s Health” photo shoot, rose to prominence quickly in Illinois after a stint on the local school board. Notably an excellent fundraiser, Schock’s fall is made so much worse because, in reality, he didn’t need the extra cash. It looks more like Schock either didn’t care or was just too sloppy in his record keeping. The problem just kept compounding to a point where, with only a little bit of digging, the entire house of cards (no pun intended, Frank Underwood would never have lived this large) blew apart.
Schock had to resign. There’s no real doubt that he was going to face a significant primary challenge and that his brand was tainted. The bigger problem is that Schock’s fall hurts the entire next generation of the political class in America. Schock was twenty-seven when he was first elected to Congress. He leaves the body at thirty-three. He is in the prime group of up-and-coming politicians in the “Millennial” generation. As a Millennial myself, Schock’s fall resonates deeply.
To some degree, Aaron Schock embodied the stereotypes of a Millennial: ambitious, attractive, social-media savvy, lacking attention to detail, and power-hungry with a god complex. A generation of people has been told how special they are and how great they can become. While “self-esteem” is a great thing to have and confidence is a virtue, Schock’s fall is a lesson in the Millennial stereotype playing itself out unchecked. From most every report, there was no one telling Aaron Schock about brand control. Rather, Congressman Six-Pack was gallivanting around the globe and enjoying himself on the back of the American taxpayer. Obviously, most Congressmen play this game. However, when the truth comes out, you had better have an excellent reason for why you did what you did. This is cynical, but this is also politics. Schock was left high and dry with no comeback when confronted with his sloppiness and disregard for the amount of money he was spending.
The translation from Schock’s spending habits to Millennials writ-large is the image of the twenty-something moving back in with Mom and Dad. Junior doesn’t care about the burden of moving back home and is able to rationalize it for whatever reason. The problem for Millennial politicians, then, is how to get the vote of the “Moms and Dads” of the world who see Millennial politicians living large off of hard-working American taxpayers? Thus, Schock’s downfall plays into anti-Millenial stereotypes.
The reality is that Millenials are the future, obviously. The question is, does the Millennial generation have to wait longer to get its members into positions of power in order to effect much-needed reforms because of failures like Congressman Schock. If Schock is any example, future Millennial politicians must present themselves with austerity and transparency. The scrutiny level for the next-generation politicians, in light of the fair or unfair stereotyping of Millenials, will put every candidate under a microscope with even the slightest variance used as grounds to deny support. Let’s hope my generation is up to the task of proving that the Aaron Schocks of the world are the outlier rather than the rule for when we take our place in positions of power.