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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Vote early in your life

Published: October 12, 2012
Section: Opinions

The exact title of Samuel L. Jackson’s now widely-seen viral video in support of Barack Obama’s reelection, is not to be printed in this family-friendly community newspaper. But “Wake the F*ck Up,” which presents the actor’s endorsement of Obama’s Democrats largely by virtue of a furious slamming of Romney and the Republican Party, provides an example for which candidate one should cast their vote. What Jackson (and the Democratic super PAC that underwrote the spot) wants is to reach the particular voting bloc of America’s youth. Always the most underperforming age group in terms of turnout, the real message of ads like this one is that young people can not only swing our national elections, but that they should.

No voters will on average have more of their lives affected by the policies yet to be enacted than young voters: We can reasonably expect to remain alive the longest. But voter participation in my age bracket, what the Census Bureau categorizes at 18-24, does not even consist of half of us.

It was pretty close in 2008, when young people around the nation flocked in record-breaking numbers to support Obama. But that 48.5 percent is higher than the average, and considerably higher than the election that preceded it, featuring two non-incumbent presidents: In the extremely controversial 2000 election, youth turnout was below 40 percent. If young people voted at the rate of citizens aged 30 and older, which is consistently—even before 2008—about two in every three, any discrepancy between the popular and electoral vote count would have been obliterated, and the national fiasco avoided.

Now, that stat is true if a lot of things happened: if the 30-plus voted at the seven-tenths that it holds; if more voters did not vote for spurious third-parties, et cetera. But elections are about more than producing a fully credible winner. Meaningful decisiveness requires a candidate who can honestly claim to represent at least a majority of the electorate. No candidate has ever achieved this among young people. And it is young people who ought to voice the biggest say in our nation’s future, not the least.

The national issues of this 2012 election, from taxation to health care to military policy, concern all Americans, but especially the youth. Obama’s stimulus program was financed almost exclusively through deficit spending, and it is the upcoming generations who will have to decide how much or even whether to pay down the debt. Mitt Romney’s proposed changes to Social Security and Medicare, while preserving the status quo for current and soon-to-be retirees, drastically alters the social contract for laborers who are about to enter the workforce. And it is not the middle-aged titans of industry and diplomacy that fight battles, rather it is a far-too-large number of young Americans whose lives are cut short waging “our” wars.

And young people have even more to offer the discourse, with entire issue planks that are not even being talked about by baby-boomer candidates, senators and bureaucrats, or even the aging, armchair pundits of legacy media. Climate change has played a virtually nonexistent role in the current campaign, and the boldest measures to support the planet are completely off the table. Young people support gay rights by commanding margins: In today’s youth-driven institutions like some professional sports and nearly all college campuses it’s virtually a non-issue. And the present immigration and deportation policies largely affect new citizens who are the youngest, having been here in America and on Earth the least amount of time.

Those are just three prominent examples. Absolutely no national politician entertains scores of others: What are we to do with emerging technologies? Soon human genes will be almost entirely mapped out, robotic machines will be able to outwork all of our laboring output and new gadgets will throw all of our expectations of privacy high into the air. And these technology laws, from patents to virtual policing, are being written by great-grandfathers. Obama and Romney may know how to make deft use of email and Twitter, but do Supreme Court justices and decades-long-serving House committee chairmen?

Astute readers between the lines may have picked up that this 21-year-old supports the reelection of the president. But if America’s youth would like to return to the America that Mitt Romney likes to discuss with our older, more powerful fellow citizens, they should make that known as well.

But you don’t have to be a liberal to be a democrat, and yes, I intentionally wrote lowercase d, in order to want a place where voters actually decide the direction of their society, for good or ill. And my peers and I vote too little to be worthy of the benefits that democracy provides; it has to change.

We matter and have more potential interest than any other group. Last-minute confession: I didn’t have enough time to vote two years ago, and I never cast my vote for Martha Coakley in her doomed race against Scott Brown. I’m not going to make the same mistake ever again.