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Fortunately, young Americans won’t be turning out to vote en masse this year. They haven’t turned out in number for many years, but Democratic coveters of the “youth vote” are now confident that this will be the year for youth to emerge as a force. A Terrance-Lake/Young Voter Strategies Poll last month showed that 61 percent of 18-30 year olds have a favorable view of the Democratic Party; favorability for the GOP is only 38 percent. Time to get those youngsters to the polls!
Beggars for the youth vote usually make an assumption that is strange to many of today’s young Americans. The assumption is that government is supremely important. Not merely that government is important, but that it is supremely so. With its supremacy must the minimum wage rise, must education improve, must health care be universalized, must Social Security be preserved, must elder care and day care and guineau pig care and toenail care be enhanced for the great masses who so desperately rely upon such things, without which they would perish in a dark age.
Who best to secure the future of big government than the crowd of youth, totally careless of whether government is conducted within the bounds of a constitution, blind to the fact that big government is utterly incompatible with the idea of America?
Both parties have lately run up bills on social programs and supporting pork barrels in disregard for the Constitution. But it is not a malicious disregard. Congressman Smith or Congressman Jones, eager to be re-elected, considers what he thinks is his calling to please the people and minds little else. He is quite likely to feel the sway of several thousand newly registered voters within his district when legislation is considered. A voting demographic having just registered to vote at an Eminem concert that is concerned, never having learned economics, how they stand to benefit financially from an election is not likely to suddenly read Hayek or Friedman’s works on the free market before entering the polls; they will incline to the ring of “universal health care” and exalt Marshall Mathers for King, or they will put up men called during their entertainment jobs The Terminator or The Body for governors of states. Gov. Schwarzenegger, we may recall, defeated a fiscal conservative named Tom McClintock in the California governor’s election three years ago because the Republican Party in that state coveted the votes of the masses instead of a statesman who would nevertheless have won.
So the youth should turn out; they must turn out. Why, given the goods to be had from government, would young people be so foolish as to absent themselves from the special-interest directory? That is the burning question for the left in this election year of opportunity.
There are some good reasons for the lack of political participation by young people, and it isn’t that politicians alienate youth by not listening to their demands, as Drew Barrymore suggested was the case, on MTV before the 2004 election. Youth have just as much of an opportunity to become a special interest as senior citizens, or teachers, or attorneys, or blacks. That youth is not a force to reckon with in politics does not mean that it could not become one, which is mostly why the left is so interested in owning the “youth vote” for itself.
The main reason the left will probably fail to get the youth masses turning out comes from the playbook of a New Deal liberal whose presence as speaker of the House was very different from that of House Speaker (if the Democrats win) Nancy Pelosi. “All politics is local,” said Tip O’Neill, who actually helped to undermine local government and politics. A Speaker Pelosi would also harm localism, stepping further to decree a reign of social liberalism that would include the abandonment of the war for universal health care and the speedy advancement of homosexuality. Here, despite the unpopularity of President Bush that would give the Democrats control of Congress, the Democrats will not resonate with the people.
The majority of young people think seldom of the war in Iraq, or Social Security, or whether the Republicans will hold their majority in Congress on Nov. 8. It isn’t that young people don’t care about political things, but that they care about local things, and if young people are to be engaged in politics, politics must engage them where they are.
Young Americans don’t vote much because the drives to vote are nearly irrelevant to their lives. Young people want community; they want to have deep relationships with the people around them. National politics, important as it is, cannot fulfill this function. Fast fade the ages of nationalism as we enter upon the age at once of globalism and localism.
Postmodernism tells us to “think globally, act locally.” We cannot isolate the political development of young Americans from their postmodern cultural experience.
Traditionalist conservatives like Russell Kirk mourned the decline of American localism. Richard Weaver, on leaving small-town North Carolina to teach at the University of Chicago, said of his new abode that “people existing together in one geographical spot do not necessarily comprise a community.” Inhumane though the last century was, and opposed as it was to the dignity of the individual, it could not erase the need, deep within the spirit, for local community.
Not out of sentimental longings for old times has localism arisen as an aspect of postmodern young America. It is because the big and the uniform and the impersonal have shown themselves in our experience to be so morally bankrupt and boring that we seek anew meaning and distinction in local things. Ultimately, we’re looking for relationships, and most of us have never met the president of the United States. Most of us have never met our congressman.
Contemporary American politics is greedy and fake. It is the scheme of corrupt and fogeyish boomers who use their offices for sex, and it is a forum for loudmouths on both sides of the aisle who become, with all of their self-righteousness and pomposity, fine comical material for Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.”
The renewal of local politics will take time, and it will take desperate and extreme limitations on the power of government. It will require an articulation of constitutionalism. It will require of our generation a brand of leadership that looks not for ignorant youth who are turning out to empower the engineers of big government, but for educated citizens who understand their place in the community. Thank God this generation is teachable.