By Bob Dorn
Call it what you want – Broke, Busted, and Disgusted might be good, or The Undead, or The Disillusioned Party– but a party dedicated to the economic and social interests of the young might brighten life and raise the hopes of the 40% to 45% of us who lately haven’t had a reason to vote.
We need that young party because the other two don’t work anymore. One of them is widely known as “the party of no” and the other one could as easily be called, “I’ll get back to you on that.”
Back in 2012 Pew Research Center found that the number of 18- to 29-year-olds who said they had registered to vote fell to the lowest level in the 16 years since the question was first asked of them.
Pew also found that interest in politics in this same youth-ish group had slipped from 75 percent to 61 percent. That was the biggest decline of all the age brackets. On the other hand – the liver spotted and wrinkled one – only those 65 or older were reported not to have lowered their engagement.
Neither Democrats nor Republicans are seeing more young people sign up. Gallup found that in 2010 there was a net loss of 1.3 million young voters, with Democrats and Republicans losing at the same rate. In that year the pollsters found that the young who did register to vote but offered No Party Preference grew from 29 percent to 35 percent.
By 2014 Gallup was finding that all Americans who refused to register either as Republicans or Democrats had risen to 42%, becoming the single largest contingent of voters.
The young have been leading us in these wary steps back from wildly foolish and dangerous politics that have reduced our democracy to hateful posturing and sloganeering. They seem not to buy the increasingly expensive bullshit the campaigns broadcast day and night.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that the young possess wisdom and honesty in degrees any greater than the more — what do we call them?… mature? But it’s a close call, isn’t it? Think of Ted Nugent and Louis Gohmert and Sara Palin and Rick Perry and (tune in Fox News). Shooting from the lip is beginning to morph into actual shooting; remember those pix of Palin and, more lately, the newly elected U.S. Senator Joni Ernst with their target practice posters?
Admittedly, the legacy of the Democrats is richer with beliefs that tend to attract the younger voter: equal opportunity, protection of civil rights, including access to abortion, gender equality, LGBT recognition, equal representation and access to the vote, the funding of job programs and public education, and many, many more.
But all issues, right or left, became secondary after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision a few years back. The 5 men in black gowns (they all were men)who form a thin majority actually ruled that money is speech and that corporations couldn’t be limited in the exercise of that speech.
That single decision has yet to be fully recognized for its radical impact on the country’s politics. It is an earthquake. It is converting the notion of a representative democracy to the simple dominance by capital. By money.
Consider one local election, the Congressional contest last fall in San Diego’s 52nd District, a wealth zone once considered to be a solidly locked Republican enclave. The more conservative party started losing members and eventually narrowly elected Democrat, Scott Peters, in 2012.
Last year freshman Rep. Peters was challenged by Republican Carl DeMaio, who’d been somewhat weakened by stories about his sexual predations.
The political difference between Peters and DeMaio was only faintly discernible. Both campaigns were dominated by trolls and overheated attack ads largely funded by national donors.
Last Oct. 19, as the ads were saturating television and the mail, the ultra-conservative SD-UT asked DeMaio and Peters to answer 13 questions, including how to defeat ISIS, control the spread of nuclear weapons, what to do about the national budget deficit, access to abortion, and controlling gun violence. The SD-UT didn’t bother to ask them their positions on aid to education or housing programs or income inequality. On 10 of the 13 questions that in fact were asked the two basically agreed on policy.
Peters had lots more money to spend than DeMaio did but only narrowly won reelection. DeMaio had collected the impressive sum of $3.35 million but Peters topped him with $4.5, some 25% more dollars.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics only 9 other races for the House were more expensive. If they’d had equal amounts of gold DeMaio would probably have won that seat.
How a putative Democrat could win in a district with wealth demographics like the 52nd’s can only be explained by the Citizens United decision.
Putting aside for the moment the question of wide scale poverty in this country, consider how little money is held in the hands of the nation’s young.
Can they influence politics at all, now, in this era of giant lobbying trips taking legislators to Caribbean islands and dumping millions of dollars into their campaigns? That the candidates have gotten away with partisan platitudes and hot air can only be the result of the money chase, which demands they not insult their benefactors by telling the truth.
Just as alarming, since the end of last century we’ve turned our foreign policy into the making of constant war. Of course, it is the young who must fight those wars. Back in the day, their parents were able to avoid making war because they were able to afford going to college instead. Now, most of the people who vote to support our wars are cutting the budgets of public schools and universities or they’re attempting to.
I doubt a youth party would support decreasing the funding of public schools and universities while favoring increased spending on making war.
It may be that this young party might be forming on its own, this time based in economic realities not at work during the youth movement of the 60’s and 70s.
More young people are moving to the cities to find work, or attend school. San Diego has Point Loma Nazarene University, separate campuses of San Diego State, UC San Diego and University of San Diego, not to mention a system of community college districts to the north, south and east of the beaches and hipster haunts and craft beer lofts of a still-beautiful place to live.
October 20, the NY Times reported San Diego is the second most popular in the U.S. among young people who are moving from home and trying to establish themselves. Denver is in first place, probably because housing costs less there than it does here.
Both those cities saw their party registrations turn Democratic a few years back as their populations grew younger. At about the same time The NY Times also reported, “college-educated people age 25 to 34 living within three miles of city centers has surged, up 37 percent since 2000, even as the total population of these neighborhoods has slightly shrunk.”
It might be a stretch to say that the influences a city works on its voters tend to be more liberal, lefty, racially tolerant and, gasp, even radical. It was certainly seen that way by late 19th century writers of pulpy popular books who went over the edge and produced shelves full of apocalyptic criticisms of urban depravity with titles sporting words like “darkness, shadow” and even “evil” used to describe life in the Big Apple.
The effect of all that fire and brimstone is being felt again. Potbellied gun nuts, wanna-be tractor pullers, coulda-been NAASCAR drivers, retired admirals, preachers who play bass with Ted Nugent and others that make up the Tea Party are fearful of a city growing younger, more colorfully integrated, more educated and diverse by the year.
Is the Democratic Party younger, more educated and more diverse by the year? Does it have a thriving, socially conscious, aggressively active core, or do most Democrats like Scott Peters year by year go along to get along? Don’t they mostly agree with San Diego Democratic Party Committee chair, who told dissident members of the party she couldn’t support their candidate because “I have to keep the money people happy.”
That is not the way to attract young voters. It may well be that the young can only gain some influence over this country’s policies if they form their own party.
I hope they do.