The recent economic crisis hit the American middle class hard. But for the youngest adults trying to gain a foothold in the good life, it's been devastating. So why did so few millennials, the huge cohort of 18- to 29-year-olds, vote last November? Only 21 percent bothered.
Let's dispense with the excuse that they don't feel their elected government cares about them. You don't get served till you enter the restaurant.
The result of this passivity may soon be apparent. President Obama has issued proposals to restart the middle-class escalator in ways that would be especially helpful to millennials. They include free tuition to community college, expanded tax credits for child care and a tax break for middle-income working couples.
Because these things would be paid for with higher taxes on the very rich, many will be a tough sell to the expanded Republican majority. As we know, the conservative electoral gains were a gift from older voters, who turned out in relatively high numbers.
Many of these folks spend their leisure hours marinating in the glow of Fox News Channel, where they are told what exemplary Americans they are and how younger people without jobs or savings are basically bums. The median age of the Fox News viewer is almost 69. For Bill O'Reilly's show, it is 72.
Give these older conservatives credit. Their sense that government doesn't care about them is precisely a reason they vote. They vote whether they like or dislike the president. They vote if it's raining. In sum, they are doing what they're supposed to do. Vote.
Much blame for the voting age gap belongs with the various spokesmen purporting to represent the young, generally progressive electorate. They often sympathize with the group's reasons for not voting rather than telling them to toughen up and dive in.
I wish the TV comics dishing out news kibbles amid the bleeped-out F-words would stop telling the kids not to trust anyone, above all the traditional media. The traditional news media, for all their warts, remain a last holdout for grown-up coverage. Actually, serious government reporting, once you start following it, can be fascinating. Toilet jokes not needed.
This trashing of the more reliable sources drowns news consumers in the chaos of social media, where well-written lies and propaganda swirl among the honest reporting. Ironically, the older folks still read the newspaper, even as they often curse its viewpoints.
A poll of millennials conducted last spring by the Harvard Institute of Politics blamed decisions not to vote on a "decrease in trust" in government institutions and a rise in cynicism. Really? Few distrust government more than the older tea party folks, who correctly see the voting booth as the remedy for their discontent. They understand that you end up voting for the preferable of two choices, not perfection.
The younger voters, the Harvard pollster went on, "need to feel like they're making a difference."
The most obvious way to make a difference would be to vote, would it not? And by the way, it's truly cracked logic to say that once good leaders magically get themselves elected, we'll start voting for them.
There are two coherent ways to deal with unworthy politicians. One is to throw them out of office — or keep them out — through one's vote. The other is to submit to them and not vote.
Too many young Americans choose the submission route. Should the conservative Congress shoot down proposals to help them advance economically, they'll see the price of going limp.
The politically powerful know they need only one reason to vote: It's Election Day.
(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)
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