The Basics: Neglected, despite the voting power they possess, young politically-active people receive the lowest amount of political rewards for their effort and the party that changes that will dramatically reshape the political landscape of the United States of America.
Yesterday, I had an experience that I have not had for quite some time: I got angry. What made yesterday’s anger so noteworthy was that it was an incredibly delayed anger (and it came long before I received my first paycheck from my new job, when I realized that I had spent half said check already getting to and from said new job!); I found myself irrationally upset about something that happened years ago.
Back during the Bush Administration, when I was in my late twenties, I ran for the United States House Of Representatives. Outraged by the abuses of the Bush Administration, I ran a small but determined six-month campaign to oust one of the most deeply entrenched Republican lackeys in the U.S. House. I spent six months campaigning, getting my name out in the district, but raised only $1,000, and utterly failed to make an impression or even draw enough media attention to justify the expenses I racked up to make my attempt at change. I didn’t even get to the point where I was legitimately fighting to get on the ballot and a year and a half later when the election was held, the Democratic challenger to that Representative lost as badly as every prior Democrat before him.
When Barack Obama was elected to the Presidency, he came up with a decent solution to remove the long-entrenched Republican from his seat: he promoted him. As is Constitutionally-mandated, the Governor of New York called for a special election which, against all odds, a Democrat won.
Yesterday, in my anger, I completely neglected the Constitutional necessity of calling a special election and I got angry because I was never called about replacing the promoted Representative. My anger came from the very simple concept: the guy who was run by the Democrats in the Special Election was a lawyer, one who had never run for public office before. While the Republicans followed the usual pattern of running career politicians from lower offices for the House, the Democrats picked a guy who had shown no prior ambitions or interest for public office (and let’s face it, what the House really needs is another lawyer, right?!). Regardless of the complete, abject failure of my own campaign, it showed that I was very clearly interested in serving.
What always gets me to write is not the personal part of the story, it is the larger epiphany about The Way Things Work. The epiphany I had yesterday is that the greatest disenfranchised population is the youth demographic. I’ve long argued against sloth in young people – I hate apathetic youth who refuse to get politically-involved and do not vote. Today, I think I may be at the opposite end of the spectrum.
What is the direct benefit of young people getting involved with the political process? Young people are told by the established elements of both political parties that they are not politically viable for public office. If you want to change the world, you are told you have to start at the bottom: run for the school board, run for town council, etc. From my experience, I am a pretty smart person and I look at the big picture. I like looking at the way things fit together and I became educated about national politics. But, running for political office is not treated like a specialized field, it is treated like a fast food management position: do your time as fry cook, move up to the window, take a night management position and one day, this McDonald’s could be yours! So, young people are always asked to vote for someone who does not look, sound, or actually represent them in a recognizable way.
Second, more than any generation since the Baby Boomers who were electing people who would then send their demographic overseas to die in a war on foreign soil, the current generation is asked to vote for politicians who explicitly work against their interests. As the Baby Boomers retire and look to utilize the social programs they paid into (which they are certainly entitled to), they are reforming the system in a way that puts those programs (in addition to the programs that try to keep the citizens who are struggling to feed themselves alive) in jeopardy. In other words, the middle aged majority is asking younger voters to show up to vote into power people who will continue to perpetrate the problems they created, inherited, and are generally unwilling to change in favor of maintaining the status quo and the benefits for their own generation.
I completely understand how the Powers That Be came to use the youth population; it’s the demographic that can be the most exploited because it is the only completely malleable one. If you are black today, odds are you will be black tomorrow; if you’re a woman today, odds are you’ll be a woman tomorrow. If issues that affect the gay community inform how you vote because you are gay, there is a pretty good chance that tomorrow, you’ll continue to be part of that voting block. But today’s youth will grow up to be tomorrow’s cranky middle aged people looking out for their dead-end jobs after surrendering their dreams to the economic realities the prior generation has created.
Every other demographic receives patronage when their demographic aids in using their influence. Barack Obama has been utilizing his clout to nominate women – who voted overwhelmingly for Obama – for the Supreme Court (and it’s about damn time!). Every other major demographic that voted Obama has had key people placed in juicy posts to reflect the America which elected him.
Barack Obama is certainly not to blame for the way youth are treated in American politics, but he has shown no willingness to change this part of the system. For someone who has spoken about change, Obama has been unwilling to make one of the most significant changes possible; political appointees who have imagination, youth, and lack entrenchment in a system that has proven that the longer one is a part of it, the more they become beholden to special interests outside their constituents or the issues that drove them to politics initially.
With the midterm elections rapidly approaching posts are going to need to be filled. Both the Democrats and the Tea Party will be counting on youth voters to shape or reshape the political landscape when the House Of Representatives elections occur. Obama’s political capital is at the place where it is time to spend. Sure, he could be the next Jimmy Carter, who works after his tenure to change the world, but with the lack of a clear line of succession, the 2016 election is going to be a primary and election mess. The Democrats will be struggling to create a platform that justifies the prior eight years while acknowledging that the country did not change or advance radically beyond the problems Obama inherited. The Republicans will continue to fall back on their platforms of hate and xenophobia and a pro-business conservatism that energizes their base, but speaks to remarkably few young people.
If Obama and the Democrats want to make real change, they should find the political posts that can be filled by people under thirty, or anything over eighteen, and start filling them with people that young. The political party or institution that first starts rewarding young voters with actual political power, positions, and clout will be the one that wins the future. The worse the economy gets, the more the youth demographic will split between the “party base” that surrenders to apathy and futility and the motivated self-starters who want to change the world. The party that appeals to, and rewards, the latter group instead of simply exploiting it, will create the genuine revolution that determines the shape of the future.
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.