My sense when I look at what young voters tell pollsters is that they assume that everything is going to be just fine if things roll along pretty much as they are. They have grown up in an era, lasting nearly 25 years now, when we've had low inflation coupled with economic growth 95 percent of the time. They may grouse about gas prices or paying off college loans, but they're able to get jobs that mostly pay pretty well and often are more interesting and less backbreaking than the vaunted factory jobs of the past. They have grown up in an era when personal choices that were stigmatized as immoral not so long ago are accepted and even respected. You can live with your girlfriend or boyfriend before you get married; you can be gay: Nobody is going to give you a very hard time. In fact, young people are delaying childbearing until marriage more than they used to and seem to be divorcing somewhat less often. We're learning as a country to balance freedom with responsibility.
Iraq exception. The one issue on which young people seem dissatisfied with things as they are is the military conflict in Iraq-that would be with the exception of most of the young people who have served there and who are re-enlisting at higher than projected rates. The attitude of those without military ties seems to be: If we just get out of Iraq, if we just get rid of George Bush, then everything will be all right. We won't see suicide bombers and IEDs on our television screens; we won't see mass demonstrations by Europeans and Muslims against us; we won't have all this controversy and bitterness in our partisan politics.
As a relatively young voter myself, I should add that to this most of us have, at one point or another, been exhorted to "be active"--to involve yourself in a cause, to get out there and "make a difference."
Unfortunately, there aren't all that many causes out there. I stumbled onto abortion--my cause, so to speak--young, but also almost entirely by chance; that doesn't happen for most young people.
And that, I think, is where Iraq comes into play, because young voters have been raised on the "history" of Vietnam: a wholly evil, unjust conflict, which heroic students and young people across the nation rose up against and put to an end...and then, they lived happily ever after.
In short--an overly simplistic, fairy tale-like rendering of one of the last great "causes."
Far too many young people, I think, have slipped Iraq into that pseudo-Vietnam mold. At last, they have a "cause"--and one for which they don't have to do any more work than vote Democrat...which popular culture would incline most of them to do at any rate.
And once they're out of the voting booth, they can go back to their bread and circuses.