Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2004 / 11 Shevat, 5764

David Grimes

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A tale of two generations | One of the more alarming findings of a new survey of U.S. college freshman is that young people are regaining an interest in politics.

It is bad enough that 18-year-olds have youth and vigor on their side without having to listen to their analysis of the Palestinian situation or a windy lecture on how to save Social Security.

Freshman who used to spend their free time planning panty raids or listening to loud rock 'n' roll are now huddled in focus groups to debate campaign finance reform or the pros and cons of the Patriot Act.

Those of you of a certain age may remember the last time college students took an interest in politics and how the country was turned upside down as a result. The kids that were on one side of the Generation Gap in the '60s and early '70s are now old codgers with bad gums, receding hairlines and late-night anxiety attacks about how they are going to pay for their own kids' college education.

However, this most recent survey, called The American Freshman and sponsored by the University of California- Los Angeles, suggests that the activism of today bears little resemblance to what was happening on college campuses 35 years ago.

Since the first survey was taken in 1966, students' political views have shifted dramatically to the right. The students who call themselves liberals (24 percent) still outnumber those who call themselves conservatives (21 percent), but there's been a pronounced closing of the gap since 1971, when 38 percent described themselves as liberal.

Today's typical college freshman would be unrecognizable to a student of the late '60s and would probably cause him to become so depressed that he would consider drowning himself in his own bong water.

For starters, the percentage of students whose main goal in life is to become "very well off financially" has risen from 42 percent in 1966 to 74 percent in 2003. Furthermore, the percentage saying it's important to develop a "meaningful philosophy of life" has dropped from 86 percent in 1967 to 39 percent in 2003.

So, not to overstate the case, we are basically talking about a bunch of greedy, soulless future bankers who, once they are handed the reins of power, will make Dick Cheney look like Michael Moore.

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Other things the freshman class of 2003 would have told the surveyors if they had had the courage to ask:

  • 76 percent said they hope to climb the corporate ladder as quickly as possible because they "can't wait to start laying off people."

  • 69 percent favor chasing the buffaloes out of Yellowstone National Park and building condominiums because it would be a "great investment."

  • 58 percent say the Wall Street Journal "sometimes distorts the news to serve its own liberal agenda."

  • 89 percent say the homeless problem could be solved if "they'd just get a home."

  • 72 percent believe that anyone who is injured in a car crash while driving something other than a Hummer "was asking for it."

  • 65 percent say the Enron scandal was nothing more than a "minor bookkeeping error" and that they would one day like to see Ken Lay's face on a U.S. postage stamp.

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    JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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