Column: Politicians: Failing the younger generation

By Brian Mellen

“Trying is the first step towards failure,” Homer Simpson once said on “The Simpsons,” back in the old days when the show was still funny. Plenty of people I talked to just before the 2004 election who said they weren’t voting probably would have agreed with Homer’s statement. Rationales I heard for not voting included “Illinois is already going to the Democrats,” as well as “One vote doesn’t really make that much of a difference.” These attitudes are the epitome of not trying for fear of failure and Homer’s quote pretty much sums up the essence of the apathetic attitude many college students have towards politics.

In the election of 2004, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that only 47 percent of all people ages 18-24 voted. These numbers indicate a significant percentage of younger voters not participating in elections. But rather than turning this column into a motivational clich‚ to encourage young voters to participate in this year’s gubernatorial election race featuring current Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Republican candidate Judy Baar Topinka, allow me to provide some insight into why we don’t care. When I say “we” I don’t really mean myself because within the last couple of years my interest in politics has grown steadily, but I used to feel just as apathetic about politics as many other people on campus.

Firstly, we don’t care because many of us are far too busy to keep up with current events. Ahem – thank your professors for that one. Although, to be fair, if you’re a college student that’s why you’re here on the campus. The average college student is far more concerned with surviving school than issues such as whether or not the Illinois governor with a funny name will be re-elected. Secondly, it’s hard to be concerned with politics, especially concerning economics, when many of us are not even out on our own yet and still depend on mommy and daddy’s piggy bank. And, finally, politicians do an abysmal job of appealing to younger constituents. They are far less concerned with the future generation of adults than they are of the current generation. For example, the state of Illinois keeps cutting funding to the University and therefore the University has to increase tuition. When this happens, Illinois politicians alienate younger students and are not looking out for the younger generation of Illinois.

If you take a look at all of the people in the House of Representatives and the Senate, what is the most common kind of person you see? That’s right, the majority of Congress is full of old, white, overweight men. True, there are age requirements to meet before someone can be elected, but these old, white men are out of touch with the younger generation. They fail to appeal to people my age and approach issues from the perspective of a younger person. That’s one reason why less than half of people ages 18-24 voted in the last presidential election.

Perhaps the issue at hand isn’t really a serious problem. As we get older we’ll start caring more about politics because our ages and concerns start matching that of Congress. All we have to do is wait. Besides, Congress emphasizes the importance of older voters anyway since 18-24-year-olds represent only one part of the voting age range and not a majority.

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    However, even though the alienation the younger generation experiences from politics may not be a huge problem, the two-party system that causes the alienation is. Our two-party system is only representative of two main political parties, Republicans and Democrats. The politicians who represent these parties do not accurately reflect the wide spectrum of views and beliefs of the American public. These politicians mainly represent the views and interests of older white men and sometimes white women. Because our two-party system does not allow much room for any other legitimate parties, many views of the American public go unrepresented. Not only is the will of the younger generation rarely carried out, but minorities from all different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds are largely left out of the political process. Our two-party system is responsible for the discrimination minorities still face.

    To hope for a day when our government restructures itself so that we can have a multi-party system where more views are represented is unrealistic and naive. But if people wonder why our means of governing discriminates against minority wishes by not carrying them out, look no further than the majoritarian, two-party system we use.

    Brian Mellen is junior in Communications. After writing a column against speeding a few weeks ago, he recently got a speeding ticket. His column appears on Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected].