Skip to comments.Vote Rocking. Dems go for "the youth."
Posted on 11/05/2003 11:15:32 AM PST by .cnI redruM
I despise youth politics. I do not consider "the youth" to be members in the Coalition of the Oppressed. "Youth Rights" is a concept best thought of as a sponge for the lugubrious rage of a handful of precocious teens and twenty-somethings who cannot find a more coherent vessel for their agenda. People involved in "youth politics" whine incessantly about how unfair it is that they are subjected to "stereotypes," and yet the whole enterprise of youth politics is premised on the cliché that young people are somehow united politically. The terms "Generation X" and "Generation Y" were little more than secular astrology or an attempt and traditional mass-marketing. The only thing that unites young people politically, as a general rule, is that they are by definition at the bottom of the learning curve and, consequently, they try to power their way uphill with passion instead of wisdom. As Oscar Wilde observed, "In America, the young are always ready to give those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience."
I should offer some important caveats here. There are many smart and well-informed young folk. But these people tend to understand because they are well informed that the more enduring political labels matter. These people, on the right and the left, might emphasize the importance of youth i.e. youthful energy and idealism or, as JFK might say, "vigah" but they do so within the context of a larger political argument.
The problem with Rock the Vote is that they are liars. They claim to be non-partisan when they are in fact run-of-the-mill young liberals who either use youth as a Trojan Horse in order to conceal a message nobody would want to hear from them otherwise, or they simply believe that youth and liberalism are synonymous and therefore bask in their own authenticity.
Oh one other caveat: Yes, yes, yes, I have been fully briefed on the fact that "the children" are our future, damnit. But, so what? That is a statement about the need to improve the quality of inputs, not a statement about the quality of outputs. I mean, by the same logic, spermatozoa is the future too, but I'll be damned if I care what it sounds like when you put a cable news microphone to the beaker.
Anyway, I bring all of this up because this is how I've seen this issue since I was a much younger and thinner man which is precisely why NRO editor Kathryn Lopez kept haranguing me to watch the CNN Rock the Vote presidential debate. So I watched. And, as much as it pains me to say it, I thought it was a pretty good debate and quite entertaining, given the standard set by both "youth" events generally and recent Democratic debates in particular. That doesn't mean that there weren't plenty of cringe moments throughout the evening. Indeed, despite Anderson Cooper's generally good turn as host, the format itself made it impossible not to generate that same feeling most children get when they see their parents try to do the electric slide at a party. By my watch it was 7:04 when Cooper implored the candidates to "keep it real."
But, since it is late, let me offer a few observations at random and maybe at the end we'll see if there's a theme to the pudding (mmmm pudding).
1. The first thing everyone expects from politicians, particularly Democratic ones attending youth-oriented events, is that they will try extremely hard to seem "with it" or "cool" or otherwise "down." Tonight was no disappointment. Howard Dean came out dressed in the official uniform of tenth-grade math teachers who, as a policy, always return tests on time: blue shirt, rolled-up sleeves. John Edwards and John Kerry went for the blazers-with-no-tie look. No harm there. But the most hilarious sartorial faux pas came in the form of the double-mint twins: Dennis Kucinich and Wesley Clark. They both wore black turtlenecks with dark jackets. This noted fashion cop got the sense that Clark was going for the maverick military truth-teller look, a la Col. David Hackworth. As for Kucinich, the best I could tell is he wanted to look like the leader of the Hale-Bopp cult upon hearing the news that ex-military leaders get beamed aboard first. It's impossible to know for sure, but it certainly seemed that Clark lost his jacket once it became clear that he and Kucinich were modeling the same outfit for different catalogs.
2. On the substance side, the most important thing to happen Tuesday night was Howard Dean's at first manly and at last lame refusal to apologize directly for wanting to appeal to southerners who sport the Confederate flag on their pickup trucks. The question was unavoidable and even though it was the third question the first being a dishonest question about "forced interrogations" of Arab Americans under the Patriot Act (never happened) and the second question being some inanity about Kerry managing the Boston Red Sox one wondered why it didn't come up sooner. Dean began by declaring, "Martin Luther King said that it was his dream that the sons of slave holders and the sons of slaves sit down around a table and make common good." He then went on to make an almost coherent case that his campaign was about class, not race, and therefore these symbolic racial issues should be ignored.
While Karl Rove and other Republican well-wishers no doubt saw a candidate they might actually have to fear come the general election, Al Sharpton saw a wounded gazelle straying to far from the herd. He led off with a nice rejoinder, "First of all, Martin Luther King said, 'Come to the table of brotherhood.' You can't bring a Confederate flag to the table of brotherhood." He then commenced to assure the audience that while Dean wasn't a bigot, he should apologize for embracing the "American swastika" in a way that would disqualify any southern Democrat. Dean defended himself again on the "class not race" angle. But Sharpton came back again that most poor Southerners don't embrace the Confederate flag and, besides, Dean still hasn't apologized.
As Dean began to wilt and Sharpton's teeth began to gleam (and John Kerry literally began to beam), my wife exclaimed, "Oh my gosh! They're actually keeping it real!"
Indeed, the "real" problem for Dean came at the end, when he gave up crucial intellectual ground. "I think the Confederate flag is a racist symbol," he said. "But I think there are lot of poor people who fly that flag because the Republicans have been dividing us by race since 1968 with their southern race strategy." Um, that's all fine and dandy, it seems to me. But whether you blame Republicans or not, once you admit it's a racist symbol there's little room for a Democrat to invite racists into his "big tent." If Dean had studied the Republican line more closely, he'd know that Republicans don't embrace the flag because it is racist or at least they never, ever, say that but explicitly because it represents things other than race: heritage, pride, honor, etc. If I were Joe Lieberman I would have asked whether he wanted poor whites with swastikas on their walls to vote for him too. There's an answer to that question, of course, but it would have been wonderful to see Dean fumble around for it like an old man who's lost his glasses.
3. Who on earth knew that it was required of all Democrats to be able to pronounce ellgeebeetee so sonorously? I am referring of course to the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgendered community. It would be interesting to know what Confederates for Dean think of his facility with that buzzword.
4. Wesley Clark. In his video he repeated his ongoing mantra that there was no imminent threat from Iraq and that America should only send troops into battle when it's the last resort. Fine. But the biggest stars on Clark's permanent record are Vietnam and Kosovo. Given his views of the last Iraq war (and actually the first one too, since he's called it a war for oil also) does he think Vietnam and Kosovo were justifiable wars? Kosovo was certainly less of a threat to the U.S. than Iraq, and one could make a similar case about Vietnam, particularly from the liberal perspective. Clark might fall back on his dislike for "unilateralism," but all that says is it's okay to do the wrong thing in a group but bad to do the right thing alone. I just don't get why I never hear this brought up.
5. As I said, the chief grievance of youth politics and youth politics is almost entirely about grievances is that young people aren't taken seriously, that they're condescended to. And yet, liberal organizations like Rock the Vote are nothing if not condescending. The format of the debate required that each candidate provide a 30-second video to introduce himself to the young people of America. And, following the script, each candidate provided a video designed to appeal to the frontal lobes of teens. One wonders when they're going to do MTV's "Democratic Cribs," in which we'll be able to see Howard Dean's rumpus room and Dennis Kucinich's extensive collection of pictures of himself superimposed alongside the likes of Gandhi and John Reed.
The problem with such condescension is that it buys into the notion that if the grown-ups do it, it must be wrong. For example, at the outset Anderson Cooper demanded that the candidates not offer their standard sound bites. And, as a way to discipline them in advance, he ran a montage of candidates saying things like "At my website www.al2004.org/" or whatever. There are two problems with this sort of thing, both of which lead to precisely the kind of cynicism the "youth" are supposed to oppose. First, you can make anything sound artificial if you put it into a video-feedback loop including all of the greatest statements in our history, from the Ten Commandments to "ask not what your country can do for you . . ." Second, many of the slogans offered in the video actually contain real ideas and were necessarily packaged to reach some 200 million voters. Do we really think it's wrong for candidates to tell voters where they can get more information about their views i.e. at their websites? Dennis Kucinich's mantra about getting the "U.N. in and the U.S. out" of Iraq is an idea, not a meaningless slogan. It may be a bad idea, but it is still an idea.
At the end of the evening, the questions that were good were good not because young people asked them, but because they were good questions, period. But invariably, the questions that were bad were bad because they were deliberately framed as "youth questions." One person in the audience asked if the candidates were Mac or PC people. Another asked which of the other candidates they'd most like to party with, including which candidate would hold their hair while they puked. (Yes, I do remember the Burt Reynolds vomitorium sketch from SNL.) None of the substantive questions wouldn't have been asked by any run-of-the-mill liberal at any Democratic debate.
Anyway, all of that being said, I must say that this was the most entertaining debate I've seen this year. And, yes, that's like saying "the world's tallest midget," but it is something. So if that was the result of these guys being in front of a bunch of young people, so be it. I guess Rock the Vote is good for something after all.
During the California recall election (which also had a proposition on the ballot) there was a top level banner "ad" telling voters how to vote on the issue (something like No on 54!).
Rock the Vote is a non-profit, non-partisan organization, founded in 1990 in response to a wave of attacks on freedom of speech and artistic expression.
Rock the Vote engages youth in the political process by incorporating the entertainment community and youth culture into its activities. From actors to musicians, comedians to athletes, Rock the Vote harnesses cutting-edge trends and pop culture to make political participation cool.
Rock the Vote mobilizes young people to create positive social and political change in their lives and communities. The goal of Rock the Votes media campaigns and street team activities is to increase youth voter turnout. Rock the Vote coordinates voter registration drives, get-out-the-vote events, and voter education efforts, all with the intention of ensuring that young people take advantage of their right to vote.
Rock the Votes work doesnt end when the polls close. We empower young people to create change in their communities and take action on the issues they care about. Regardless of whether youth are signing petitions, running for office, contacting their elected officials, or taking up a sign in protest, they are all rocking the vote.
There is a subsection of "issues". This does not appear to be a non-partisan clearing house of information on the issues. Look at the organizations that MTV-CBS-Viacom's Rock The Vote has linked:
Free Expression: Rock the Vote was founded to confront censorship and promote the right of free expression. Be informed of the issues that affect you and those you love. Use your voice to let others know how you feel. Call your Representative. Write a letter to your Senator. Let the President know whats on your mind. Walk the vote, talk the vote and Rock the Vote everyday.
American Civil Liberties Union, www.aclu.org Freedom Forum, www.freedomforum.org
National Coalition Against Censorship, www.ncac.org
Recording Industry of America, www.riaa.org
United States House of Representatives, www.house.gov
United States Senate, www.senate.gov
The White House, www.whitehouse.gov
Violence: Every day in America 2,402 children are abused or neglected. A woman is raped every sixty seconds. In 2001 there were 12, 020 victims of hate crimes in the United States. Whats being done to make our schools and streets safer? Want a less violent society? Tolerate, educate and speak your mind.
Childrens Defense Fund, Safe Start, www.childrensdefense.org
The Family Violence Prevention Fund, www.fvpf.org
National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, www.safeyouth.org
National Organization For Women, www.now.org
Pax - Real Solutions to Gun Violence, www.pax.com/speakup
Environment: Climate change. Clean air. Pollution. Should we drill in Alaska? Will the world look the same as you get older?
07/03/03: Help Save the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)
The Artic Refuge is among the last area of Alaskas North Slope that does not allow drilling. The newest Energy bill before the Senate threatens to open up the tundra to oil drillers. Head to www.savearcticrefuge.org to sign a petition that lets Congress know how you feel.
20/20 Vision, www.2020vision.org Center for Environmental Citizenship, www.envirocitizen.org
Environmental Defense Fund, www.edf.org
Greenpeace, www.greenpeaceusa League of Conservation Voters, www.voteenvironment.org
Rainforest Action Network, www.ran.org
The Sierra Club, www.sierraclub.org
Student Environmental Action Coalition, www.seac.org
United States Public Interest Research Group, http://pirg.org/uspirg
Education: Youve heard the saying that children are our future, but what kind of future are children being prepared for when they have to sit in overcrowded classrooms and lack basic supplies such as books and paper. And what about college? Is there enough aid for those who need it? Knowledge is power. Use your power to speak your mind and guarantee your right to an education.
The Center for Education Reform, www.edreform.com
Childrens Defense Fund, www.childrensdefense.org
National Education Association, www.nea.org
People for the American Way, www.pfaw.org/issues/education
United States Student Association, www.usstudents.org
Jobs and the Economy: The current job market is one of the worst in memory if you are a young adult. Whether you are leaving high school or college, jobs are scarce and debt is through the roof. Wages are low. Health care and retirement benefits are gone. If you ever doubted the impact of government policy on your life, look at the unemployment figures.
Campaign for Americas Future, www.ourfuture.org
UC Berkeley Labor Center Program on Young Workers, http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu
Debt: The average college student has $2,700 in credit card debt by the time they graduate and that doesnt include school loan debt. Do you have access to financial aid?
07/03/03: Repeal H.R. 685
Send an elected official an e-mail in support of H.R.685 which repeals the HEA Drug Provision. This provision denies federal aid to any student convicted of a drug offense. To learn more about this legislation and send your support, visit http://ga0.org/campaign/.
Bank Rate, www.bankrate.com
Jump Start Coalition for Personal Finance Literacy, www.jumpstart.org
Raise Your Voice, www.raiseyourvoice.com
U.S. National Debt Clock, www.brillig.com/debt_clock/
If Rock The Vote is a 501c3 non-profit charity then it is clear that they are in violation of IRS tax law. Just the link to the partisan PAC MoveOn.org is enough of a violation. Consider that a "non-profit" church could not put such pamplets on a table in the lobby. Of course I've seen the same sort of violations at Pacifica Radio (Green Party literature) and nothing is ever done to revoke their 501c3 status.
Brilliant. He is just brilliant.
At least 3 of the Democrat candidates for the 2004 presidential nomination have made antisemitic comments (I am including Lyndon LaRouche among the candidates, regardless if the rest of the party will acknowledge him; they acknowledge Al Sharpton). There are racists and bigots running for the 2004 nomination. The media has chosen to look the other way. As to whether there are antiblack candidates running for the Democrat nomination, that's just splitting hairs as to just what sort of bigot they are running.
I didn't see it that way. It seemed more like a coordinated slamming of Hopeless Howie.
Al Sharpton seems to be there to be darn sure that whomever the Dems choose is in tune with the concerns of blacks. I thought when he told Dean he wasn't a bigot, it sounded more like "I know you're a bigot, but I can't prove it, so I'll just attack you on the stuff everyone can see and hear".
Edwards was beautiful, just beautiful, defending the south. Howie was so mad he said he would consider Graham of Florida as a running mate (there has to be a connection). Don't you just love it? He'll consider the guy who dropped out, not someone who will stand up to him...what a wimp.
Kerry's job seemed to be to attack Dean on his flip-flop on gun control, and to defend the rights of hunters to hunt. I think he succeeded in making Dean look confused and ill-informed on this issue.
Kucinich had in one of the first debates attacked Dean on his lie about Social Security age, his staff finding the reference where he had said he'd raise the age to 67 or older for full benefits. Then, the debate before this one, Kucinich came right at Dean for an ad in New Hampshire implying that he (Dean) was the only true anti-war candidate. That's bizarre since Kucinich is more anti-war than Gandhi was, and he has the voting record to prove it. Well, surprise, Dean had said he wouldn't pull the ad, and Kucinich was going to the FCC with a complaint.
This debate did achieve something. The candidates had to relate to young people, out of their element. Howard Dean came across as the doddering, incoherent, uncle you want to lock in the closet for Thanksgiving dinner. The rest of them seemed to do okay.
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