Full disclosure: I love politics. I’ve loved it ever since I was a child watching The Daily Show and I don’t anticipate stopping anytime soon. Everything that should make me hate it just makes me love it even more. I love the political ads where they slow down tape of some doughy congressman so he looks like Jabba the Hutt in a suit. I love it when talking heads yell over each other and their faces get all red. I love the dramatic music they play on election night while newscasters stand in front of touch screen maps and pretend to understand what’s going on.
Call me naïve, but it’s young love. I’m smitten.
However, most people don’t view the ridiculousness that is the modern electoral process with the same nostalgic admiration as I do. I interned on a congressional campaign in the six weeks leading up to the election, and the biggest thing I learned was that most people don’t really know what’s happening in government, but they know that they don’t like it. They know that all politicians are bloated scumbags. They know that everyone in government is plotting against them. And, most importantly, they know that nothing is ever going to change.
That’s great if you’re 65 and watched your best friend die in Vietnam, but maybe the 17-years-olds that walk around our school squawking about how everything and everyone in government sucks aren’t quite justified in their opinion just yet.
I understand that teenage cynicism knows no bounds, but aren’t our high school years supposed to be a magical time of unjaded promise? Isn’t the cure to all world problems ruminating somewhere in our brains between integrals and the latest episode of Pretty Little Liars?
I’m not saying we all need to become bureaucratic groupies. Debate and dissent is what makes our American republic the great entity that it is. However, if the criticism is indiscriminate, if participation is futile, if our society and media has fostered a generation of 18- to 24-year-olds with the approximate critical palette of Oscar the Grouch, then we really are doomed.
In 1912, only 14% of the population was able to vote. Now, there are only two requirements: to be 18 and to be a citizen. Things change. If we don’t like what’s happening in government now, we can fix it. But (warning: cliché message ahead) if we don’t even try, we’ll certainly fail.