By: Dennis Mikolay
One of the more interesting aspects of being a college student is the ability to gain insight into the political views of other students.
While the young generation is typically characterized in popular media as a rebellious group of activists, individuals who are ready to tackle the world’s problems head-on, the reality of the situation is very different.
While there are certainly politically active individuals on our nation’s college campuses (one need look no further than the College Republicans or Democrats), the prevalence and enthusiasm of such individuals has been greatly exaggerated by the mass media.
In reality, one word can accurately summarize the political feelings of most of the middle-class college students: complacent.
Why is this? How is it that today’s students have forgotten the activist leanings that drove their parents into a frenzy during Vietnam? Did the Civil Rights era not teach us that social change can most certainly come on the heels of mass protest? Or do students today not care enough to attempt to right the wrongs that surround them, instead choosing to simply sit idly by while the world around them crumbles?
A classmate of mine recently summarized why most students are likely wary of wasting their time on politics: our elected officials simply don’t fear the public the way they used to. Those in Washington and Trenton are able to spend most of their careers preparing for the next election. It is a sentiment that has been echoed a thousand times before; if politicians’ eyes are always two, four, or six years ahead of the present day, they can’t possibly relate to their constituents. Sure, they pass “feel good” bills (which really don’t have a positive impact on anyone) through the legislatures, but they ignore the truly pressing issues.
Why? Because taking a stand on such matters would likely require a politician to make some unpopular choices, thus costing votes during the next election.
To add to this disheartening predicament, once a politician wins office, they are rarely unseated. It has become nearly impossible to defeat incumbents; think of folks like Rush Holt and Frank Pallone, individuals who have been in Washington for decades, who will likely never be forced out of the public sector solely because their offices wield unrivaled political leverage and unmatched finances.
Why make your voice heard when you know it is destined to fall upon deaf ears? Why try and instigate political change when you know that, despite your best efforts, those in office aren’t going anywhere in the near future? David never really defeats Goliath, and both the career politicians and the voters know that.
Even when the youth do mobilize, as they did in support of Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election, they quickly learn that they are simply used for their votes. Just think: how many students voted for Obama because they opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, only to find their new president eager to escalate these conflicts? How many well-meaning LGBT youth cast their ballots firmly believing that Obama was a friend of the gay community? And yet, almost four years later, the president has yet to endorse gay marriage and likely never will.
Whether or not one agrees with either of these positions is irrelevant. What is important is that many of the country’s youth recognize that they were manipulated, and it will likely deter them from becoming politically engaged on a widespread level in the future. Sure, the Democrats will try again in 2012, persuading college students that Obama is still the savior of democracy, the bringer of social justice, an unwavering ally of the people. But it isn’t true, and even the most devoted of the progressives are starting to realize it.
And therein lies the problem. If students, or any other American for that matter, are ever going to instigate real change, they are going to have to do it themselves. They can’t blindly invest faith in a “leader” or a central figure. When the public realizes America needs a true, grass-roots, populist movement, the United States will stand a chance. Until then, the Republic will continue down the spiral of extinction.