GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY, WASHINGTON D.C.
Essay themes: Health of American democracy, media and candidate charisma, political role models
Essay themes: Health of American democracy, media and candidate charisma, political role models
APADEMOKRAZY NEWS FLASH: (beepbeep, beepbeep, beepbeep) A national epidemic of American voter apathy plagues the health of democracy in the United States...still no cure...tune-in for more at eleven. Does anyone remember the last time a similar announcement beamed across our airwaves? Such a report, likely, was last aired following poor voter turnouts in the 1996 presidential election. The United States of America, a model democracy, right? Then how can so many citizens fail to fulfill a responsibility as simple, yet important, as voting? Despite being one of the most dangerous threats currently facing our nation's democracy, this issue is continually shuffled to the back of the file drawer, only to be brought to the attention of the masses following the highly predictable, pathetic voter turnouts in national elections. What's worse? The fact that state and local elections trail even further behind in voter turnout percentage. The health of democracy in the United States fully depends upon the people's electoral participation. Demos-kratos, the people's power. Through continued gross negligence of our voting responsibilities, our great nation slowly accepts a fate no more democratic than the former Soviets, under strict Kremlin rule. A democracy without the people is just plain cracy, CrAzY, KRAZY! The United States epidemic of democratic apathy, Apademokrazy for short, infects the entire population regardless of age, creed, race, or sex, but appears to have most strongly manifested itself in the blood of America's youth. Although researchers have failed to discover a cure, they link the spread of the virus to...can this be right...DOING NOTHING AT ALL!?!?
Like any illness, our society must first grasp an understanding of the cause before developing a cure. Democracy's wound is no longer a superficial scratch, but rather a full blown disease chipping away at our nation's mind, body, and soul. Band-Aids and Neosporin do not treat problems of this magnitude, just as ad-hoc solutions and petty excuses will not solve the harsh reality echoing from sea to apathetic sea. While precious time is wasted in the finger-pointing blame game, feelings of alienation and detachment from the political process steadily infiltrate today's youth. Teams of "experts" offer a myriad of explanations and excuses: individual insignificance in the power of a single vote, a lack of understanding of the government's role in everyday life, contentment with the current situation, lost faith in the political process, laziness, and the list goes on. Each contains some degree of validity, yet fall short in their attempts to fully uncover the true origin of youth voter apathy. "Rock the Vote" campaign along with other commendable youth programs directly address these problems concerning my generation's failure to carry out its democratic responsibilities, yet the symptoms persist.
The solution is painfully obvious and decidedly simple. Reforms like better ballot access, Internet voting, and an Election Day holiday sound nice, but I believe they are quite unnecessary. No, what our nation's youth needs is a little learned charisma. The excitement of a good political race truly rivals that of any athletic match-up. There is as much intensity, entertainment, and competitiveness in a mudslinging political debate as in a wrestling ring, Hollywood set, or Basketball court. Just ask Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Ronald Reagan, or Bill Bradley. In addition, the real-life consequences of political outcomes greatly outweigh the actual effects of any Monday night football game. Americans, especially the young, love competition. Evidence of this fact exists in our own board game breakfronts, television tubes, front-of-the-house hoops, PAL parks, municipal marathons, city hot dog eating competitions, school sports, county duck-call contests, district dog shows, area arenas, and state stadiums. Yes, Duck-Call Contests! If citizens gain excitement from a simple duck-call contest (meant in the least offensive way), then surely a competition as significant as a political race can engross them. Parents shell out big bucks to take their children to NBA, NFL, NHL, and Major League Baseball games. If attendance at such outrageously priced competitions can continue to soar, then why should attendance at a free political debate, America's true and original past-time, be different? Children watch and, more importantly, imitate their parents, rising charisma as ads for the Big Game are flashed across the television, but do children witness the same excitement in their parents as ads for the Big Debate are flashed?
Furthermore, parents cannot teach children to play baseball simply by handing them a bat, a ball, and a glove; likewise, today's youth will never learn to participate in the political game simply by teaching them a few political facts. Parents throughout the nation spend hundreds of dollars each year supplying their children with sporting equipment, but when was the last time they spent a fraction of that money on equipping their children's minds for the political game that shapes countless aspects of their life and future? I realize that I am suggesting a responsibility that many parents fail to recognize as their own. Perhaps many parents simply have not given it a second thought.
Nevertheless, the issue of political participation surmounts, or at least parallels, numerous other national concerns. The government and entire industries apportion millions of dollars in their annual budgets to launch nationally televised campaigns addressing drug use, smoking, driving intoxicated, pollution, education, drowning, electrocution, forest fires, and even death on railway tracks. How about, this is your life, this is your life without a vote? "Just say Vote!" Or possibly "friends don't let friends drive past the voting booth"; maybe try "Give a hoot, vote at the booth". The possibilities are endless. Certainly youth electoral involvement ranks somewhere between drug use and railway accidents. But then again, it's only our future.
Essay themes: Incentives for youth to vote, political power of youth as a group, lack of a political agenda or rallying cause to motivate youth to vote
Why Don't We Vote?
Daily sound bites of distrust among politicians and of large donations to campaigns bombard our youthful minds, perpetuating the image that those inside the Beltway are beyond our influence. Although we have historically lacked clout compared to other groups in the electorate, nowadays our powerlessness seems greater and our dissatisfaction with government seems stronger. To transform this outlook, this nation must work together to provide incentives for the youth to vote. In a time when more young people work to help their parents provide for the family, financial burdens, compared to voting, weigh heavier on the youth.
During the Jeffersonian era, republicans sought to promote political participation for the public good. Specifically, Jefferson wanted to distribute land to primarily white male citizens, which would result in individual independence. He believed that if individuals were not preoccupied with survival, they would participate in our democratic government. Furthermore, apathy would dissipate as these propertied individuals would gain a stake in society. Today, our political leaders must offer incentives to incite young Americans to vote. One incentive is to offer tuition vouchers, which would lessen the cost of tuition for students. Provided in small amounts over an extended period of years, the vouchers would promote voting among students and may also raise the young voter's conscientiousness by getting him into the voting booth. As each student glances over the ballot in the booth, he may realize that certain issues affect him and his family. Additionally, he may realize that although he does not support a particular candidate, his little knowledge suffices for him to choose the lesser of the two evils. Initially, individuals may cast an uneducated vote to access the vouchers; however, as they stop receiving vouchers after graduation and grow older, they will realize that their votes impact their lives. These voters will become passionate about issues and knowledgeable of their elected officials. When these voters build families, they will have learned the power of a vote and will encourage their kids.
In addition to offering incentives to incite young students to vote, our political leaders must also provide incentives to motivate young working Americans. The elderly have an incentive to vote - protecting their Social Security benefits. Young voters, however, have little stake in voting. We have no sense of urgency to rally us. To spur voter participation amongst young working Americans, political leaders should provide tuition vouchers disbursed over a period of time if these Americans want to return to school. In addition, political leaders should offer a larger tax deduction for the young working Americans who have children. Giving these parents a greater child deduction along with establishing easier voting procedures, such as election-day voter registration or vote-by-mail, would ease the burdens of time and money. If incentives are provided over an extended period of time, perhaps until the young voter reaches his or her late twenties, these individuals will realize the power they wield with their votes. As a result, candidates will focus on the youth vote. For example, although President Clinton's appearance on MTV may have aroused some of us to cast our votes, not enough of the youth voted to gain a significant portion of the candidates' attention.
Unlike the times of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Depression, we have no unifying struggle to surmount, therefore no urgent reason to voice our opinions. We have no ties to a specific party as many of Roosevelt's time have to the Democratic Party. On the other hand, one commonality amongst many of us is that our parents immigrated to America. Having emigrated from Pakistan at a young age and revisited many times since then, I know the effects of an uninvolved, powerless electorate and the lack of a structured, accountable government. As an American citizen, I have immense pride and interest in the workings of a democratic government. However, many immigrants face the daily struggle of survival. Most leave their countries seeking a better life for themselves and their children, as my parents did. For the parents of these children, our leaders must provide opportunities for minorities to gain substantial employment, such as more training centers where useful skills are taught. As the immigrants' children grow, our government must promote an educated electorate, achievable through incentives such as tuition vouchers. Providing incentives will cost the government, but one solution is to consider the use of our surplus.
The Democrats want to protect Social Security, arguably, because they want to cater to the strong elderly electorate that votes. The Republicans want to give tax cuts, arguably, because they want to cater to the rich electorate that votes. Let us use some of the surplus to pay for incentives that will electrify the young voters. Seemingly, both parties are satisfied with the current electorate because the parties know whom they have to please and how to please them. Admittedly, using the surplus for voting incentives will be a difficult battle. Many may argue that this is another form of welfare, since the majority of those who do not vote are minorities. If, however, these incentives do stimulate young minority voters, then our population will be better educated about its government and the democratic process.
Another solution to minimize the government's costs of providing incentives is the cooperation of private industries. Companies that employ young voters can provide easy access to information about candidates, can allow their employees an extended lunch break to vote, and can give small bonuses to encourage political participation. Universities should aid organizations, including college Republicans and Democrats, to assemble debates about issues that affect young voters. Advertising about upcoming elections and requiring a course on current issues are additional ways to motivate the young electorate population. Although raising participation levels will require effort and expense, the long-term benefits of motivating an apathetic segment of voters outweigh the expenditures. Through incentives, this country can attain Jefferson's vision of a nation in which individuals have a stake in their government -- a government truly representative of its people.