After the Mark Foley sex scandal was made public, George Rasley, an aide to Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) – who supposedly had ties to the scandal – told The New York Times: “This is one more thing that makes people wonder about politicians and politics. It reinforces this notion of Washington being a place that bears no resemblance to real America.” While a “real America” is probably something that only exists in make-believe (How many people do you know who are truly law-abiding and consider honest hard work the only key to success?), Rasley’s comment does support the idea that the corruption plaguing Washington has made for a government that is no longer “of the people, for the people, by the people.”
The government’s struggle to represent itself as a responsible authority to Americans has become more difficult in recent years as each instance of influence-peddling and nepotism that our elected officials partake in everyday comes to light. A pack of political watchdogs is just waiting to pounce on the next politician who says one wrong word or takes one wrong step. The Foley affair was blown so far out of proportion – and angered so many Americans – because we have become accustomed to finding out about scandals right away; that Foley’s escapades remained under the radar for so long was unacceptable to most Americans.
While it’s hard to complain about the increased spotlight on political scandals, there is one drawback to all of the exposure: Politicians have become more concerned with covering their asses and worrying about their re-election than with doing or saying anything that might involve the slightest risk. Issues like Social Security, the national debt and the destruction of environment are left for future generations to deal with, because taking a stance on them could cost a few votes.
So to build on Rasley’s comment, our government not only fails to represent the American people, it also fails in preparing for the future. It is for this reason that young people are disillusioned with the government – they’re essentially forgotten in the political agenda. Ballot initiatives or legislation that appear to look forward to future generations simply fail to pass – or like Proposal 5 in Michigan, turn out to only benefit us in the short term.
Our generation must take the initiative to bolster support for causes that will ultimately point America in the right direction and ensure a stable future for our country. With 11 days left before midterm elections, there is still plenty of time for young people to campaign for initiatives that are forward-thinking and against initiatives that send us backward. And our parents, although they may not be around to see the benefits of Proposal 1 or the ultimate fruits of affirmative action, must still be encouraged to consider future generations when they go to the polls.
In the next 11 days, we must make it our responsibility to do the following:
– Call our parents. Because of the overwhelming amount of information about elections that bombards students at the University, chances are that you may be more informed on ballot initiatives and candidates than your parents are. Also, reminding our parents that an initiative like Proposal 2 will have a stronger effect on our generation than theirs may get them to reconsider their opinions.
– Call our grandparents. Politicians consider support from the retired population vital to any successful campaign. The reason for this is simple: Old people like to vote. In fact, the over-60 age group has a higher voter turnout rate than any other. Calling your grandparents or any other senior citizen and telling them about issues that are important to you and your future could have a huge effect come Nov. 7.
– Call our friends. Census data show that in the 2002 midterm elections, only 18 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds showed up at the polls. Calling friends who may not be as informed as you on the issues is a great way to educate them and remind them to get to the polls.
It may be a while before our government is free of corruption or before young voters receive more recognition from legislators. This election year, we can at least try to show politicians that our opinions do carry weight. Making strides toward a government that is more for the people and demanding that elected officials attend to problems that will affect our future can only stand to benefit us later in life.
Theresa Kennelly is an associate editorial page editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.