May 7 2008
In modern politics, few things are as over-hyped as the youth vote. Every election cycle is billed as the one that young voters are finally going to be the key player in shaping the results. Institutions like MTV's Choose or Lose and P.Diddy's Vote or Die campaign spring up to corral the supposedly massive base of youth waiting to cast their vote on election day. The youth vote always fails to live up to the hype. But 2008 is shaping up to be different. Already, we've seen a massive amount of enthusiasm from younger voters, who have been entranced by Senator Barrack Obama.
It's great that so many young people are engaged in this election cycle. If nothing else, Obama deserves credit for reaching out to a lot of new voters and inspiring so many young adults to get involved. This is surely a positive development. But what happens next is of tremendous importance to the future of America.
Obamamania has been largely driven by the Senator's appealing personae and inspiring rhetoric. But for this upswing in interest in politics to have real meaning it can't just be a cult of personality.
It's crucial that young voters focus on the many pressing issues of concern to them and future generations.
Take Social Security, for example. In 2017 Social Security will start to pay our more money in benefits than it collects in taxes, and by the time, today's college students retire, the program will be able to pay only 74% of promised benefits. Unless reform happens soon, young voters will face massive tax hikes, massive benefit cuts, or some combination of the two.
Or, take the economy. Many young voters have recently graduated or will be graduating soon. As they enter the job market, they will face a slowing economy. The key question on their minds should be, what will make the situation better? While the government cannot effectively "plan" or "fix" the economy (though that won't stop some politicians from promising to do so) it can shape the rules of the game to promote prosperity. Promoting liberal trade policies would be a great place to start. Many students on campus are bombarded with anti-globalization propaganda that focuses on jobs lost because of increased competition. There is another side of the equation-trade liberalization creates jobs in this country and gives us access to higher quality goods at lower prices. Lower trade barriers will help spur economic growth here and around the world.
Fixing our tax code is another way policymakers could help our economy both through this current economic downturn and in the future. Our overcomplicated tax system is a drag on the economy as companies and individuals spend millions of hours filling out paperwork. Simplifying the tax code, and ending the outlandish practice of discouraging saving and investment through high taxes, would encourage entrepreneurship and promote growth.
Another issue that young voters should be concerned about is education. For most college students, the days of sending your children off to school may seem to be in the distant future, but the truth is they are right around the corner. And, unfortunately, most will find that their local public school has massive shortcomings. They should think about the process they used to select a college, and ask why a similar process doesn't take place for elementary and high school. Young voters ought to seriously consider supporting school choice programs that give parents more control over where they send their children to school and brings much need competition to the current government-run public school system.
These are just a sampling of the many issues facing young voters. As both political parties try to capitalize on their newfound interest in politics, let us hope that the focus of the conversation is on these issues, and not solely dependent on politicians' personalities.