Generation X must raise its political voice

AUSTIN, Texas, (U-Wire) — Every generation has a name tag. For most twenty-somethings at the University, it’s likely a tossup among “generation Xers,” “post-Boomers,” or, ahem, “Super Seniors.”
Whatever you call them, they are “the most politically disengaged in American history,” according to the August issue of Atlantic Monthly magazine. Sounds like an incurable disease.
Ted Halstead, the 30-year-old author of the article and creator of various think tanks, believes he has an explanation for why today’s young adults aren’t involved in politics.
He starts with the statistics: a mere 32 percent of eligible Xers (aged 18 to 24) voted in the 1996 presidential elections.
In terms of voting, 44 percent (of those who did in 1996) identified themselves as independents and as the least likely to favor maintaining the current two-party system. Most of their support went to Ross Perot in 1992 and to third-party candidates like Jesse Ventura in 1998.
What do all the numbers mean? It leads Halstead to believe that Xers are not responding to the two political parties because their interests are not being addressed, much like teenagers who build walls around themselves to tune out Mom and Dad — parents, and parties apparently, just don’t understand.
Halstead takes it a step further and attributes this avoidance to an “acute economic insecurity” developed during childhood years — the Reagan and Bush years — that leads Xers to “turn inward and pursue material well-being above all else.” Translation: Xers have a grim outlook on life because of the now-weakening economy. Maybe.
What rings more true is this observation: Xers see no leadership on the issues that concern them; rather, they see self-serving politicians who continually enslave themselves to the highest bidders.
Indeed, Xers can’t seem to find the perfect party (all jokes aside). They want the fiscal restraint of the conservatives but, like the liberals, they want to fight for the little guy, too. So like the jeans that didn’t fit quite right, politics gets hung back on the rack as Xers move on to do things they enjoy.
So what is the panacea for such a devastating illness? Halstead introduces “balanced-budget populism.” The central tenet to this theory is a combination of financial prudence (or a pay-as-you-go philosophy) and government intervention to reverse economic inequality. This is not old-fashioned politics. Traditionally, the Republican right calls for lower taxes, smaller government and reduced assistance for the neediest. The Democratic left adheres to tax-and-spend liberalism and big government.
Xers, on the other hand, likely prefer helping the needy (but without running a deficit) and cutting taxes only if it doesn’t take from the surplus. However, their political agenda remains unheard, as politicians all but ignore the potentially most influential segment of the population.
Instead, politicians pander to the Baby Boomers, visit the retired and fall at the feet of corporate interests. Why? Because they get involved. They speak up. They vote.
The only way to reverse the political anorexia of Xers is for them to realize their power to bring change to the system. Xers need to crawl out from under the covers and enter the very political arena that they loathe. Xers must integrate themselves into the process.
They must bite the hand that forgot to feed them.
Julie Chen’s column originally appeared in Friday’s University of Texas-Austin Daily Texan.