Politics & Policy

The X, Y, Z Affair

What's so great about young people?

I know this amounts to bigotry in a culture which has elevated “children are the future” to a religious axiom, but what exactly is so great about young people? Oh, I don’t mean actual children, I like them — though unlike the current presidential candidates I am perfectly willing to leave a couple behind. I mean young people, the youth vote, Generations X and Y. The people whose apathy is a “national crisis” and whose “disengagement from the system” is a moral failing of the political system.

Now, I’ve been banging my spoon on my highchair for a long, long time about how much I cannot stand generational blather. But what got me thinking about it again was yesterday’s shockingly honest New York Times magazine’s cover story on how late-night comics and their writers are all liberals (and yet none of them will hire me for the sake of affirmative action).


The article begins with an anecdote about a girl at Davidson College who is bright and studious. You know, the sort of smart chick who sits in the front row taking notes, constantly asking, “Will we be tested on this?” and who rats out boys she catches with Cliff Notes (I went to a college where 70% of the women and 80% of the men fell into this category of chick).

Anyway, this young lady featured in the New York Times is proud to admit that she relies on only one regular news source: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Of course, she has all sorts of clever arguments about why she thinks the news she gets from The Daily Show on Comedy Central is more “honest” than the news from the nightly news. She may even have a point. I have always thought the most biased news was the news in which the biases of the reporter are hidden. When you read my, er, “reportage” for example, you know up-front that I am a Fabian-qua-Fabian Utopian Socialist with an abiding sympathy for the Gnostics. But when you watch Peter Jennings or, Lordy me, Dan Rather’s “neutral” reporting, it’s very hard to tell what filters are in operation.

That said, Jon Stewart?!

At one point the Times reporter, Marshall Sella, watches The Daily Show with her. Stewart runs a clip of George W. Bush mispronouncing subliminal as “subliminable.”

Stewart says, “Yes, he said ‘subliminable,’” pause, ” but he was probably distracted thinking about executing some criminables.” “That is so funny!” the girl declares (name withheld, to protect the embarrassingly stoopid). “Criminables! I like that they didn’t just say Bush was a moron, but put it in the context of his other policies,” she said sagely, overlooking the fact that the only place she’s heard about the “moron” governor’s policies is from the same network that constantly reruns Police Academy movies.

Don’t get me wrong. I like The Daily Show quite a bit — when I can catch it outside the Soviet cable system of Washington, DC — but to rely on Jon Stewart for any, let alone all, your news is like relying on Bill Clinton as your lone moral swami. More seriously, The Daily Show doesn’t pretend to be an actual news show. I can match anyone’s ability at gleaning useful facts from TV, but there just aren’t very many facts on The Daily Show and virtually zero public policy…Holy Moses, smell the roses, why the Hell am I even pointing this out?


Anyway, apparently this girl is representative of a growing trend in American politics, especially among the young. Forty-seven percent of 18-29 year olds “often gleaned information about the presidential campaign from late-night comedy shows” we are told.

I’m sorry, but why exactly is it a shame that this young woman and the millions like her aren’t voting? This woman is, politically speaking, an idiot. As I suggested above, I am loath to even defend this statement with a lengthy presentation of facts and analysis. It is simply ipso facto true that if you get all of your news from The Daily Show you are the voting equivalent of a person who insists they can meet all of their nutritional need by eating solely beef jerky (hmmm, jerky). Remember, she probably knows a lot more about current events and American politics than most of her peers. But just because most of your contemporaries are pigmies, that doesn’t make you tall if you’re a midget.

This has nothing to do with liberal or conservative — even though the impact on conservatives is greater. This has to do with the simple fact that most young people — hell, in my opinion most old people too, but the young ones especially — are not qualified to vote and perhaps to even hold a serious opinion about politics. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Though I am an elitist, this is not an aristocratic argument. This is about excluding people who don’t care about politics. And that means, disproportionately, young people.

Of course, this is merely the latest chapter in a very long story. After all, Oscar Wilde once observed that a birthmark on his cabin boy’s right buttock looked like George Bernard Shaw, though that’s not important right now. Wilde also observed that, “In America, the young are always ready to give those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience.”

Still, the youth voluptuaries like the gang at Youth Vote 2000 have gotten out of hand. They are ubiquitous in their footstamping about turning out the youth vote, even teaming up with the World Wrestling Federation to get the vital constituency of wrestling fans at the polls.


The two biggest fads — and therefore the two biggest frauds — of artsy-fartsy politics are 1) that there are a host of vital “youth issues” not being addressed by American politics, and 2) that low voter-turnout is a “crisis.” We hear this bunk constantly from fawning politicians, cloying activists, asinine actors, and an array of people who drink clever coffees.

But, with the exception of some entitlement reforms and maybe student-loan aid, there is not a single legitimate “youth” issue that isn’t either a repackaged liberal cause or simply not that pressing. And as for the low-turnout “crisis,” this is pure bunk. In fact, I have never met anyone — including numerous youth-vote activists — who can explain to me in serious non-literary terms why low voter-turnout is bad in and of itself (I would welcome a debate with any of them). Low turnout just bothers them so much (it also gives them a job in front of the microphones).

When I had my hernia operation, my doctor told me that when I was better I’d be able to lift heavy luggage. According to the Fanny Farmer school of “voting is good for you,” what I should have done is run right out and lift a steamer trunk over my head because to do so would automatically mean that I was all better. The reality is that I had no business lifting The Collected Wisdom of Alec Baldwin, let alone anything even remotely heavy.

I am not being undemocratic, I am being an adult. Voting is something people do when they take politics seriously. It is the end of a process of civic engagement, not the beginning. Voting for its own sake is civic engagement on the cheap. Having professional wrestlers exhort young people to vote for the sake of voting does not enrich our Republic, it diminishes it.

And you know, perhaps young people don’t vote because they know something their leadership doesn’t. Perhaps they’re smarter than the hand-wringers realize. Perhaps young people don’t vote because they have better things to do. Perhaps they secretly know that just as I have no business critiquing tri-athletes, quantum physicists, or accountants, they have no business voting if they only get their news from The Daily Show.


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