Friday, July 1, 2011

Muse of the Week: The Vote

The 26th amendment to the United States Constitution, lowering the minimum voting age to 18, was enacted on this date in 1971.

Most election seasons are marked by commentaries bemoaning a lack of voter participation among young Americans, and it is true that voter turnout could be far better (this holds true for most age groups in the United States). Among those young people who are engaged and do vote, however, I have noticed some encouraging signs of hope. I am struck in the classroom by the pragmatism I see among my students. Yes, 18-to-22-year-olds are notoriously idealistic, convinced they hold the keys to ending society's problems in their generation. Lately, however, I observe signs that our youngest voters may have their feet more firmly planted upon the ground than many of their elders.

One example: I was lecturing last spring on the presidency of George H. W. Bush, and when we reached the realm of economic policy I noted that when the United States entered a recession following his election Bush opted to promote both cuts in expenditures *and* increases in revenue. While the latter betrayed his "Read my lips: no new taxes" pledge of the 1988 presidential campaign, Bush understood that government had more than one tool in its arsenal against economic recession and that using both might be the most prudent course of action. He chose to abandon dogma and make a pragmatic set of decisions geared toward the best interests of the country.

My students were flabbergasted that Bush had been willing to do this -- and vociferous in their endorsement of pragmatic decision-making to combat our current economic crisis. The prevailing commentary was a combination of sarcastic statements to the effect of "wow, you mean they actually were willing to use all the tools available to them?" and wistful desires for something similar to take place in the contemporary policy arena.

Young people know that they will inherit their elders' achievements -- and their problems. If the students I have taught recently are any indication, our future may well be in better hands than our present. Now, kids: get out there and vote! The sooner you do so, the faster we'll enjoy the benefits of your pragmatism.

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