Since 1968 the Democrats have been shut out, more or less, as majority party. But with a small bump in left-of-center turnout, they’d be running the country. The dropoff in voting has been greatest among the young. This is the biggest what-if in American politics: What if the Democrats pitched an issue to the young?
For example, student loans. Declare an amnesty. Or let college grads off the hook if their incomes fall below a certain level. Or at least let them discharge the loan in bankruptcy.
But is there a single bill in Congress from any Democrat to this effect? No. Instead, the Democrats over and over pitch their issues to the elderly–only, in the last election, to see the old people, hardhearted, reject them again. Isn’t it better to woo the young?
Yes, being middle-aged, I now scoff at the kids too. They don’t vote. Or read the papers. Most of the time I think they’re slugs. I see them on the El and not reading anything at all. Headphones, not for an album, but just a single song, over and over. That look in their eyes: no look. Just: click. Off. Prozac would be a wake-up call.
A very young person I know (he’s 33), said to me, “You look at the ’60s, the young people who were leaders then. National leaders. Changing history. Like Stokely Carmichael–he was, when you read about him, only, like, 24! Now I look around, at people even my age, and what are they doing? Nothing. Nothing at all!”
Now it’s true, back in the 1960s, we dropped out too. But the way we dropped out is diddly squat to the way kids drop out now. Here’s a comparison:
Turnout percentage, of all 21- to 24-year-olds:
What’s shocking is that in 1968 kids were trying to sit out the election. Humphrey, Nixon–both were for the war. Since 1968, the numbers in college have shot up. But newspaper reading has dropped. (So are they more educated?) And voting is now–even in Bush-Gore, a cliffhanger–about a third.
In 1968 half the kids voted: Now that’s the rate nationwide. In 2000, it was 35 percent of kids. So won’t it, one day, also be 35 percent nationwide?
We Boomers love to say, “There are no issues now, like Vietnam, that directly affect the young!” Or, materially affect the young. But is that true? What strikes me about Vietnam is that, in a certain way, it did not affect many of us in a direct or material way. We weren’t going to be drafted. We knew it. We protested for the sake of others. Or take civil rights. The kids who were on the freedom buses to the South in the early 1960s had no material stake in it at all. Kids turned out for precisely the issues that did not affect them materially.