Youth lack the leaders to combat political apathy

August 23, 2004|By Aaron Kraus

MANY POINT TO members of my generation and ridicule us for our political apathy. To a degree, they're right.

We are obsessed with money. Music videos on MTV reinforce this image, one in which all value is placed on wealth and conspicuous consumption. But there are more fundamental reasons why activism and political discourse seem to be lacking in my generation. A sentence from the 1962 Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society puts it best: "But apathy is not simply an attitude; it is a product of social institutions, and of the structure and organization of higher education itself."

Members of my generation have no motivation or outlet for political involvement. The cynicism of politics is present for good reason. We are bombarded daily by presidential candidates using cheap lines and phrases that are better suited to college bars for picking up those of the opposite gender.

This cosmetic rhetoric used by both political parties is an insult to our intelligence. Phrases such as "We are turning the corner" by the Bush campaign, or "A stronger America" by the Kerry campaign may have tested well with pollsters, but they lack substance and inspiration and are a leading cause for apathy in my generation.

What about the issues that make an impact on my generation? They are barely discussed by politicians and the media. They need to be spoken and written about more often and more in depth.

For example, it's illogical and backward-thinking to cut taxes for the wealthiest 2 percent of the population when that money is needed to fund public higher education. As a result of that tax cut, my university and almost every other public higher education institution has had to raise tuition rates.

Tuition and fees at the University System of Maryland jumped about 24 percent in the past few years because of state cutbacks. The generation that will one day take over this great country is being priced out of the tools needed to accomplish that. We are cutting taxes for multimillionaires while middle-income families cannot afford to send their children to college.

Moreover, this tax cut has led to a record-high budget deficit. My generation will be responsible for that national debt, not the politicians responsible for creating it.

The brave Marines and soldiers are fighting and dying in Iraq while corporate executives in their 50s and 60s are making millions of dollars of profit for their companies that supply the war effort. But this raises no red flags with many politicians, and they look instead to gay marriage to capture the nation's attention while this injustice continues. We are having the wool pulled over our eyes.

Want important issues? Sit in a classroom in my old high school at Harborfields School District in Long Island, N.Y., and then sit in a classroom in a public South Bronx high school in New York City. Equal opportunity truly does not exist. And though racial segregation "ended" decades ago, we are living at a time when true racial and financial division still exists. This is an issue that matters, not gay marriage.

Further, much of our news media doesn't help end the apathy. Instead of reporting the news, they merely indoctrinate us with opinions. Individuals such as Bill O'Reilly, operating under a false pretense of "journalism" and claiming to be fair and balanced, are nothing more than pawns of the Republican or Democratic Party.

One of the places I go for news other than our regional newspapers is The Daily Show hosted by Jon Stewart. This nonpartisan satirical "news" show at least understands the stupidity and hypocrisy of some of our politicians and points out their faults.

There are no leaders inspiring my generation to act. Nobody is speaking words that grab you, like when you hear a great song. So many politicians play the game of politics while so few lead us with genuine conviction and thought. Where are our Martin Luther King Jrs., our John F. Kennedys?

The only political figure I've recently seen with that power is Barack Obama, the candidate for the U.S. Senate from Illinois. If Mr. Obama were running for president, he would get my vote. If he won, he could give members of my generation the inspiration we so desperately need to be politically and socially active.

Aaron Kraus is student body president at the University of Maryland, College Park.

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