Jewish World Review Nov. 4, 2004 / 20 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765
Don't Believe the Hype (2004 Remix)
"This is the best election night in history," Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe declared at 8 p.m. on Tuesday. Rumors around Washington suggest that he changed his position shortly thereafter.
Now, I might be expected to have thought, as someone who was pulling for Bush - or, to be more accurate, pulling against Kerry - that Tuesday evening ended up being the best election night in history. And that's about right, except for the sad news that as much as half of America's youth is about to die. Or L-rd knows what percentage of black voters.
You see, I get confused because it was never entirely clear to me whether Sean "P. Diddy" Combs' "Vote or Die" racket was aimed at blacks or at young people - or black young people, or at white young people who like to dress like black young people. Or was it simply a way for him to move merchandise and get more publicity from MTV? In any case, turnout among young people and blacks was, as a proportion of the whole electorate, almost identical to 2000.
The repercussions of the DNC's failure to scare or otherwise motivate blacks into voting in huge numbers can be dealt with another time. That's a serious enough issue that it doesn't deserve the sort of mockery and scorn I'm about to heap on the "youth vote."
The youth vote is bunk. It's a mirage. Fools gold. A Nietzschean vital lie. A will-o'-the-wisp. A media confabulation. Nonsense. Hooey. Baloney, bilge, hogwash and hooey.
But let me put aside the Kerrian nuance for a moment and tell you what I really think.
The notion that young people are some vast, untapped pool of liberal or - even better! - leftist voters has never, ever, been proved true. For years, '60s radical types, liberals, and universal-suffrage fetishists insisted that the voting age should be dropped from 21 to 18. Their "non-partisan" argument was a legitimate one: If you can be drafted to fight and die for your country, you should able to vote.
The more sincere hope on the left was that these masses of idealistic, newly enfranchised youngsters would sweep liberal politicians into office and horrible, mean fogies like Richard Nixon out. This was perfectly consistent with the cult of youth that began with the French Revolution and extended through the first true modern youth movements of the 20th century, Italian and German fascism.
Anyway, when the United States dropped the voting age to 18 in 1972, young people did vote in record numbers, but not along strikingly partisan lines: 52 percent went for George McGovern and 48 percent for Richard Nixon. Nixon won re-election handily, of course, and McGovern went on to become synonymous with everything that was wrong with the Democratic Party in the 1970s (and, to some extent, even today). Meanwhile, after 1972 turnout by young voters decreased steadily for decades.
The main reason youth politics fizzled is that once the draft was eliminated, young people stopped being politicized and started being commercialized. The '60s "youth movement" became simply a self-indulgent consumer culture centered around sex, drugs and rock and roll. But in their pampered and self-absorbed way, baby boomers continued to insist they were a vitally important political force, that being authentically young was being authentically political. And they've never gotten over that conceit.
Today, the self-proclaimed "youth movement" is simply a youth auxiliary of the Democratic Party. Baby boomer liberals still fall for the rhetoric of the young, partly because they fervently hope to exploit this huge, untapped reservoir of votes, and partly because nostalgia for their own radical salad days has corrupted their political analysis.
Most young people do not take any great pride in being young. Why should they? Being young requires no work and no investment in mental or physical resources. It says almost nothing about a person's real beliefs. Youth politics is as deep as the paint on a can of Diet Pepsi and has about as much substance on the inside.
It's true that this year young voters turned out in higher numbers than in 2000, but they made up exactly the same proportion of the overall electorate: 17 percent. And while Kerry may have done better among young voters than Bush did, the numbers were spectacularly underwhelming. Only Pennsylvania saw a proportional surge in youth voting.
Remember how we were all told the new army of young "Deaniacs" were going to carry Howard Dean to the White House because of the unprecedented enthusiasm, idealism and youthful vigah (as John Kennedy would say)? Well, that fizzled like a North Korean light bulb. The same was true for John Kerry.
And when the youth didn't show up, countless pundits echoed the words of pro-Kerry journalist Andrew Sullivan: "We were all suckered."
No we "all" weren't. Only those who wanted to be were. And they fall for it every time.
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