Young Americans are sick of today's politics

Published 11:51 pm Monday, April 20, 2009

By By Tray Smith
At the Georgetown summer school program I attended in the summer of 2007, over one hundred and sixty students gathered to study government, constitutional law and foreign policy. Within this group of students, I was less of an exception and more a mainstream teenager. For the first time, I became more concerned about whether the government could accommodate the multitude of students aspiring to lead it than I was about political apathy among teenagers. I simply never envisioned such a large group possessing the political passion and energy of the peers I met.
Later that year, I went on to join the page program with students from around the country who, by job description, had to wake up every morning and go to work at the most politically charged place in the world: Capitol Hill. Through these experiences and subsequent travels, I realized the formation of a vibrant group of teenagers around the country who were actively taking part in the political process and preparing themselves for leadership roles. This group, of which I considered myself very much a part, was motivated, bipartisan (although predominately liberal), and well connected through Facebook and other means. While the group was never large as a percentage of the total youth population, it compensated for size with its intensity.
Many of these young people went on to play a defining role in the successful Obama campaign, while a few others, like myself, showed up at or worked for the Republican National Convention. The campaign season was a fun time for all, as the endless analysis and news coverage of the historic election held last November was very entertaining.
However, at some juncture election mania hit its saturation point, and since Barack Obama’s inauguration the union of politically active teenagers has suffered greatly, and is now near collapse. This has been brought on by national political fatigue.
National political fatigue began last October when the financial crisis hit, shattering confidence in corporate America. Interest in the campaign spared the government from immediate public fallout, but six months and trillions of dollars later, the government’s prolificacy is finally starting to catch up. Younger voters of all partisan affiliations have begun to realize that neither party has responsibly shaped our fiscal policies, and that no party has ever been as irresponsible as the Democrats are now. This realization has shattered their confidence in the ability of the political system to correct itself, and they have become disillusioned.
Change turned out to not be so great, so these young people have decided to stop fighting for it. They are instead focusing on real world concerns like where they will go to college and how they will pay for it. While they continue to keep in touch, they no longer debate politics because they are all sick of politics.
This is the same trend that led to Thursday’s adult supported tea parties around the country, in which over 180,000 people turned out to express their dissatisfaction with a government growing greatly beyond its mandate. It was evident among young political junkies long before then, however, as conversations once filled with partisan banner turned instead to friendly chit-chat and Facebook pages once loaded with partisan propaganda filled up with pictures of Spring Break vacations.
Going forward, this same core of students will form the group of citizens that lead the country, but some of them will go into business and finance, others into engineering and health care and some into national service and the military. Very few will actually go into politics, which once was their lifeblood. The process has become too unwieldy to hold their interests. A portion of the generation that was once consumed by the news is now sick of the news. Why wouldn’t they be?
That’s the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a former page in the U.S. House of Representatives. He can be reached at His column appears weekly.

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