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Book of Matthew: Dean’s warning

Published: April 23, 2010
Section: Opinions


Unfortunately, Howard Dean didn’t give us his latest rendition of his famous “Dean Scream” when he spoke April 15.  But I’m glad I had the opportunity to hear him deliver an important warning about the coming midterm election.

Dean spent a lot of time in his speech talking about youth activism during the 2008 presidential election and the legislative battles that followed.  Many of the students present—myself included—were pleased to hear some of the flattering things he said about our generation.

He gave us credit for turning out in record numbers to vote.  Seventy-four percent of people aged 18-29 voted in 2008, resulting in the second-largest youth turnout in American history.   And we have been active in all aspects of the political system, even using the Internet to push political agendas.  “We got one million people to walk on the capital,” Dean said.  “You got one million people to send e-mails and shut down the Congress computer systems.”

He also praised us for our inclusivity.  We voted 66 percent in favor of Barack Obama, fulfilling the dream of so many in Dean’s generation who longed to see an African-American president.  We have also been at the forefront of the struggle for GLBTQ equality.  Polls taken in every state, even in the most conservative areas of the country, show that young people are far more likely than their elders to support same-sex marriage.

“Your generation is not socially tolerant or intolerant, you are socially inclusive,” he said.  “When Republicans point fingers and they point them at your friend, they’re pointing them at you too and you just wouldn’t stand for it.”

But while Dean had great things to say about us, he also encouraged us to be vigilant.  “Don’t drop the ball,” he said.  “Learn from our generation.  We exhausted ourselves, we were lied to, it was dirty, we left and we let other people take our places, and that’s how George Bush got elected.”

It’s easy to rally behind an exciting candidate during a historic election.  It’s far more difficult to maintain that energy and use it to keep electing candidates years later.  This, in effect, is Dean’s warning.  What young people have done for this country can easily be erased if too many of us fall into the black hole of voter apathy.

Keep in mind that the 2010 midterm elections, which felt so far away on the eve of President Obama’s election, are fast approaching.  In November, polls will open for hundreds of local and statewide offices, and most importantly, for congressional seats.  The results of this election will determine what kind of Congress the president will face for the remainder of his term.

History tells us that the party in power almost always loses seats in the first midterm.  Sometimes this is due to frustration with the current government, but it is just as often due to voter apathy on the part of the majority—midterms almost always have much lower turnouts than presidential elections.  Only we can stop this trend.

Dean was not just trying to compliment us.  He was trying to keep us motivated and active so we do not repeat the mistakes of his generation.  If we want Barack Obama to succeed, if we want to continue to have a say in our country’s future, then hopefully we will help him spread that message beyond the confines of Levin Ballroom.