Jewish World Review August 23, 2004 / 6 Elul, 5764
The Man can't bust our votes
"Youth politics" are back in vogue these days, and I, for one, could not be more excited. The noted statesman P. Diddy has launched "Citizen Change," a nonprofit group whose mission includes making voting "sexy, hot and cool." Citizen Change joins forces with "Rock the Vote," "Smackdown Your Vote," "Dunk the Vote" and a host of the other "youth groups" dedicated to the proposition that what American politics needs most right now is a huge voting bloc that takes its cues from jocks, wrestlers, rockers and rappers. An electorate motivated by the notion that casting a ballot can be "sexy, hot and cool." In other words: morons.
That's my first problem with this youth stuff: By definition it is aimed at precisely those citizens least qualified and least likely to hold a worthwhile opinion about government. Whenever I say this, people young and old take offense. But what other group, speaking broadly, is likely to be less informed than America's youth? OK, the mentally challenged. But who else? Young people have less education, less experience, less money, less property, and many fewer responsibilities than older people. Right?
Ironically, youth activists never tire of demanding more education for the young, yet at the same time they claim that the young - what with their passion and rage - have an indispensable perspective on politics. If such is the stuff of healthy politics, let's have toddlers and rabid dogs go to the polls.
Then there's the second problem with the fetishization of the young voter: It is irreducibly partisan, while pretending not to be. Every "youth advocate" I've ever met - and I've met dozens - has offered up the following explanation, a bit of canned outrage so predictable that someone might have been pulling a string in their back: "Young people can't be pigeonholed into one ideological camp. They are diverse, with different views, united by a common concern for the future of the country they will inherit . blah . blah . blah."
Never mind that as far as insights go, that's about as exciting as 2-percent milk. But invariably, when you ask what exactly those "youth issues" are, they turn out to be vague catchalls of left-wing sentiment. For example, my friend Matt Labash of the Weekly Standard reports that the Hip-Hop Summit - aimed at getting young blacks involved in politics - is fighting for a "Nu America" (sic, alas), as well as "the total elimination of racism . hatred and bigotry," and "the total elimination of poverty."
Now, it should be said that most conservatives fervently wish for the total elimination of poverty, hatred, bigotry, splinters, simple chronic halitosis and lumpy gravy, too. However, no conservative - young or old - believes that recruiting more voters would, could or should accomplish these things.
Nor do we buy the notion that the young automatically support new lefty programs to fix the world. "Youth activists" insist that "their issues" have nothing to do with partisanship. So why do they always sound like they're cribbing the Democratic Party platform? MTV's slogan "Choose or Lose" sums up perfectly the cynical con of such voter turnout efforts. Kids are told that if they don't "choose" - i.e., vote - they will "lose." But this formulation only makes sense if youth voting is something other than random. If young people are ideologically diverse - as the activists insist - then increased youth voting will have the same effect as increased voting by people with brown eyes.
The fact that the pantheon of racial, environmental and "social justice" outfits are all determined to "activate" 18-to-24-year-olds shows how thoroughly they don't believe their own propaganda. Rock the Vote claims to be nonpartisan, but nobody - and I mean nobody - considers them to be anything but an unofficial front group for the Democratic Party.
Indeed, most of these groups are little more than corporate-sponsored marketing drives to sell sneakers and mobilize young Democratic voters under the benign rubric of "the youth." Corporations have been playing this game for decades. In 1968 Columbia records' slogan was "The Man Can't Bust Our Music." And, personally, I think the only thing lamer than watching your parents disco is watching multinational corporations trying to seem cool.
Which brings us to a third problem with youth politics: It operates as a variant of identity politics, imbuing young people with a sense of authority they have not earned by virtue of their own labor or insight. In exactly the way liberalism has pandered to gender, race, disability and other constituencies, activists push the idea that the young are members of the Coalition of the Oppressed.
The notion is vestigial nonsense passed on from nostalgic Baby Boomers who, in their egocentrism and narcissism, believed that their parents' generation refused to take them seriously out of nothing less than bigotry. In a sense, youth politics is the ultimate expression of all that's wrong with contemporary liberalism. It exalts feelings over responsibility, what you desire over what you deserve, and passion over principles. That so many liberals continue to claim to be the voice of youth is as sad as it is revealing.
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