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So, actually, young voters manifestly do not see through celebrity. Ultimately, this attitude toward the young showcases an epic lack of respect, yet since Millennials appear content to trade that respect for excessive praise, they probably don’t deserve it in the first place. Consider: We are lectured endlessly by these groups about the necessity of encouraging young voters to partake in the solemn duty of voting because they have socially conscious, relevant voices that must be heard, yet at the same time we are ominously warned that any inconvenience whatsoever—if these young engaged citizens can’t roll out of bed on a Saturday morning, register day-of, cast their ballots at the mall, and be back in front of their X-Box half an hour later—that is tantamount to disenfranchisement.
Or as the Arab American poet Naomi Shihab Nye put it in a poem titled, sadly, without irony, “Making Aristotle Proud”:
Personally I favor early voting
So I don’t have to worry about breaking my leg
On voting day and not getting there
Easy voting for easier marks. No shame. Ultimately, though, whose interests do these young voters, raised to believe themselves so set apart from the cynical Gen Xers, serve? “In 2004, it would have only taken one dorm for John Kerry to have won the election,” Young muses. “When you think about it in that way, it’s almost mind-boggling.” Meet the new boss, same as the old…Karl Rove boss? Nevertheless, ask the Magic 8 Ball if Millennials are starting to believe their own orgiastic press and the answer will likely be “Signs Point to Yes.” In the introduction to Letters from Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak Out, for example, the young editors warn, “one might be lulled into thinking that our generation is apathetic, narcoleptic, peripatetic, lethargic, sophomoric, and generally soporific.” Well, yes, that and maybe a little too crazy with the online thesaurus sometimes. “The fact is that our generation is energetic, frenetic, epic, apoplectic, enthusiastic, and more precisely eolic.”
Right. Precisely. Eolic. Letters from Young Activists carries laudatory blurbs from Alice Walker and Mumia Abu-Jamal and a preface by former Weather Underground terrorist Bernardine Dohrn, who, with what we are left to presume is a well-developed sense of unintentional comedic timing, gushes that the book is a “clarion call of hope, defiance, critical, analysis, humor, irony, and self-conscious insistence that the queer, the Palestinian, the immigrant, the privileged, the children of prisoners and hip-hopsters have arrived.” Dohrn, having watched the reformed version of her old group Students for a Democratic Society replace the 50-page, philosophically laden Port Huron statement of 1962 with one- and two-page 2006 SDS communiqués and signs like THE WAR MACHINE EATS BABIES and IMPEACHMENT: IT’S NOT JUST FOR BLOWJOBS ANYMORE, must have by now lowered her standards considerably.
Even so, it is impressive she can so effusively praise a book that is intellectually sound enough to include a bizarre essay from 10-year-old “activist” Chloe Joy, who charges, “Some grown ups just don’t get it. They act like we’re still babies when we’re seven or something….I’m a big kid who knows stuff, and I want to be treated like a person, not a baby,” and endorses a picture book, Click, Clack, Moo, a parable about union organizing featuring “a bunch of cows [that] get together and use an old type writer to demand electric blankets,” mediated by a neutral duck. Eventually the cows and chickens go on strike and win. “When animals stick together, they get what they want!” the young girl writes. “So I think kids should get together and try to get what we want.”
Reading the pronouncements of Millennials one sometimes feels like Alice at the trial of the Knave of Hearts accused of stealing those tarts—“Stuff and nonsense!” she exclaimed. What other response could be better to young activists addressing letters to “Dearest Hip Hop” and “Political Prisoners of Racist and Sexist Sexual Politics: To Our Iraqi Sisters at Abu Ghraib,” and declaring things like “my revolution recognizes the gradations of sexuality and the power to engage in a dialogue of consent” (?) and signatures like “Stumbling in love and rage toward a solidarity worthy of the name.”
Yet nonsense merely precedes hubris for this generation raised on Kinderpolitics and mostly unearned You are special! pampering. “It’s easy to forget that a presidential election is in fact not about the candidates, but about us,” Ugly Betty star America Ferrera writes in Declare Yourself. “We are voting for ourselves, and for one another….This year when you go to the polls to cast your vote, you’re not merely voting for politicians, you’re voting for you.” MySpace founders Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson add, “For the MySpace generation, voting has become an important continuation of their selfexpression,” while actor Nick Cannon muses, “I helped make the decision and at the end of the day, I am the winner.” (Perhaps he’s confused the election here with something he clearly had much less say in—his marriage to Mariah Carey?) Having clearly caught the Barack Obama bug, Hill Harper, Harvard Law graduate, writes, “I know the time has come for you to truly live your life in the grand magnitude that you deserve. And if you live fully and embrace your power, the reflective light you shine on the world will never be as bright as it should be; unless you vote.”
Thankfully, other Declare Yourself authors have a more expansive view of elections. “It’s not just your vote that matters,” Hayden Panettiere, the cheerleader from Heroes, reminds readers, “but your vote when it is counted along with all the other votes cast by young people around the country.” You mean someone actually adds all these tens of millions of votes up? How is my voice going to be heard that way?
The cheerleader aside, this spectacle of self-assurance hints at the degree to which Millennials have been successfully infantilized. Like infants, they expect Mama Government to drop everything when they cry for a little suckle time, even as they also require loads of fawning My, what a big boy you are! encouragement. “Do you need grownups telling you what to do?” Entourage star Adrian Grenier writes in Declare Yourself. “No you don’t!” This is the sort of civic engagement Norman Lear believes the Declaration of Independence has been begging for? A bunch of mad-at-their-dad man-and woman-children acting out? A B-list star telling us there are—yawn—too “many old white men telling us what to do” and “I’m just as cynical and jaded as you. I vote to rebel, sure, but I also vote because why the f—k not.”
Very incisive. Get this man and all his friends registered! Having trudged through this mess for several weeks, going to events, watching the admirably effusive and interminably shallow slowly intertwine, I finally asked Sara Benincasa, a 27-year-old reporter for MTV’s Choose or Lose campaign coverage, how afraid we non-Millennials should be.
“Youth voters are going to shake things up and definitely scare some people,” she mused. “Old white people in power are generally afraid of the youth, and especially minority youth, owning and exploiting their own power. But, you know, it’s always the younger generation’s job to frighten earlier generations and fight against the establishment. Then one day they’ll be the establishment.”
Kids these days…Can’t live with ’em, can’t disenfranchise ’em.
Shawn Macomber is a contributing editor to The American Spectator.
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