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Borde-nough: Why vote?

Published: October 29, 2010
Section: Opinions


How should young people vote on Election Day? We shouldn’t vote at all. We have no meaningful stake in any of the two or three choices presented to us. We have failed to provide ourselves with a meaningful stake in the election’s outcome.

I am aware that important people would disagree with this assessment. President Barack Obama, for example, has been traveling around the country for the last month making appearances on college campuses, “The Daily Show,” and in other places where top Democrats believe that young people are watching.

Obama discussed a variety of issues, but his main goal was to encourage us to vote. “We can’t sit this one out,” he told students at the University of Wisconsin on Sept. 28. The president’s handlers assume that lots of young voters will boost the fortunes of Democrats, who have been lagging behind Republicans in polls.

Bill Clinton’s handlers apparently assume the same thing. On the campaign trail for Democrats, he told students at the University of Michigan on Oct. 24 to “flood YouTube, flood Facebook, flood your e-mail lists, put up signs in the student union, get on the radio stations.” He insisted that we “not … sit this election out,” because we “have more riding on it than anything.”

Top Republicans are no doubt privately happy that turnout among young people is expected to be much lower than two years ago, when we elected Obama and big Democratic Congressional majorities.

But Republicans have taken heart in recent poll data suggesting that fewer young people identify themselves as Democrats today than in 2008. In close congressional races, some Republicans, too, have targeted appeals to those among us whose loyalties are thought to have shifted, and would like to see those young voters turn up at the polls on Nov. 2.

Both parties want young voters’ help but neither has helped young people. If either party gets our votes, it is getting something for nothing. Indeed, it is getting something for less than nothing. That is because both parties have actually taken something from us.

They have stolen our future. We are being handed the bill for both parties’ follies during the course of the last 10 years. Their policies have helped to produce an economy in which our services are not needed. They have the gall to seek our support even as they tell us, in phrases meant to diminish our expectations, that important entitlement programs that set floors beneath which Americans’ dignity cannot sink simply won’t be there for us.

The parties expect young people to shrug off these matters and go back to sending text messages—or even vote to endorse them as they create a debt that we’ll be unable to repay. Their expectation, sadly, is reasonable. We have done nothing to make them think that we are anything other than docile, weak-willed suckers.

Politics appears to the major parties’ leaders to be of serious interest only to the few of us who stand to get a job out of it. Others, it seems to them, need Stephen Colbert’s or Jon Stewart’s help to be made to care about political issues. It’s only worth caring about if it can be made funny. The trouble is, today’s leaders are laughing all the way to the bank. They know that under current circumstances, they can spend money that they don’t have in ways that don’t benefit us, because we have no way to resist when they saddle us with massive debts.

Both parties have gone down this route. Their spending priorities are different, but neither does more than pretend to care about balancing the budget. They spend to make themselves look good today; they see no need to worry about tomorrow, because we seem unable or unwilling to find our political voice. The parties have enslaved us across time, taking the fruits of our future labors for their own use today.

That’s a shame. Much of the shame belongs to two parties that have no interest in the future as it extends beyond the next election. But some of it belongs to us. We’ve failed to protect our own interests. Those of us who expect to use the major parties to do this are either fooling themselves, or trying to fool the rest of us because some Republican or Democrat offered them a job. Both parties are thoroughly committed to forcing us to pay for their current self-aggrandizement, and neither foresees a future in which we might benefit from the programs that the parties are using for this purpose.

Given how bad this situation is, it’s surprising that we have at our disposal technology that would allow us to organize and pursue our political interests with relative ease. We could cut out many of the venal brokers within the parties who make those organizations such an expensive way to get the work of politics done. But, although we know it better than anyone else, we have failed to use the Internet to its full political potential.

That’s our fault. We should be running rings around the Democrats and the Republicans right now. By the time we take control of these parties, there will be nothing left to decide but who will pay and how much. We should not let things get to that point. The other parties aren’t primarily Internet-based because they’re old, and also because party leaders know that structuring a party around the Internet would inconvenience them and perhaps put some of them out of jobs. When we rely on these rotten old institutions to speak for us, we should not be surprised when the words that they want to put in our mouths are not the ones that we would have chosen.

We can delude ourselves into thinking that the biggest issue in the upcoming election has something to do with drugs, guns, abortion, homosexuals, soldiers’ pay, or the price of gas. Or we can imagine that disputes about corporate bailouts, health care legislation, the solvency of Social Security, or the continuation of America’s wars are discrete issues as to which we can meaningfully compare the two parties’ policies and choose between their respective candidates.

But so-called “issue politics” are meaningless when the government that’s supposed to protect the rights at issue cannot finance its operations. And individual issues affecting the budget don’t make sense unless they’re discussed in context. The Republicans who seem to eager to get rid of entitlement programs, for example, aren’t even discussing the budget if they’re not also talking about paying for wars and military contractors. They’re interested only in how to use our money, not whether to do so.

The issue of overriding importance for our generation is this broad question of finance. Someone has to pay for our country to keep the promises that we want it to make. The exact balance of how much will be spent, and who will be made to pay, must be decided.

If we have any sense, we will decide it ourselves. Personally, I think the government entitlements should be kept around for us and our children, that the wars, for better or worse, should end now, and that the wealthy individuals and businesses who pay less in taxes now than they did ten years ago should be called upon to foot those parts of the bill that would otherwise fall to us. You may think differently. We should talk about that.

And if we have any sense, we will talk about it amongst ourselves, outside the context of the existing parties. We have the ability to create a party the likes of which this country has never seen, one powerful enough to save us from the fate to which both Democrats and Republicans seem so willing to consign us. The choice between them, for us, is not unlike the choice between a punch on the nose and a punch on the chin.