Media Matters

Mock the Vote

A youth movement that might as well be run by old fogies.

By 11.11.03

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For all the flak Project Rock the Vote takes from conservatives, it has at least been good for a few belly laughs. In what other forum might we have learned that Rev. Al Sharpton secretly desires to "shake his groove thang" with Teresa Heinz, wife of Sen. John Kerry? Where else could we hear distinguished retired four-star general Wesley Clark declare, "I don't care what the other candidates say, I don't think Outkast is really breaking up. Andre 3000 and Big Boy just cut solo records, that's all."

What's most entertaining about Rock the Vote, however, is the complete morbid seriousness that the organizers bring to their jobs. Less humorous is the unspoken agenda that underlies their effort. The project's website plays up the program's "non-partisan, non-profit" status. The goal, it says, is to get young people voting, not to tell them what lever to pull. But that needed-for-tax-exemption boilerplate language is at odds with pretty much everything else the organization does.

One rotating panel at the bottom of the website's homepage runs ads for the American Prospect, leftist Danny Goldberg's book Culture Wars, and Jim Hightower's Thieves in High Places. The site's list of corporate sponsors runs the gamut, from the communal Vermont leftism of Ben & Jerry's to the more distinguished, diplomatic lefty tilt of The West Wing. Currently, the site's "featured artist[s]" are the Dixie Chicks. Other sponsors include ACORN, the NAACP, and People for the American Way.

That Rock the Vote swings left is hardly surprising. What's curious, however, is how willingly the project has given up any pretense of honest debate. In fact the organization's roundup of issues important to young people reads suspiciously like issues important to limousine liberal entertainment executives. Under "free expression," the site hosts links to the ACLU, Freedom Forum, MoveOn, and the RIAA. "Violence" will take you to four gun control advocacy groups and the National Organization for Women. Under "Environment," links to nine left wing advocacy organizations, including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and US PIRG. A separate section encourages activism to save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And under "Economy," well, one gets the idea.

In fact, among all the issues listed on the website, only one has a link to a free market-oriented organization -- the "Education" page links to the Center for Education Reform, which must have been a clerical error. The online poll for president gives voters eight candidates to choose from -- all Democrats. Still, Rock the Vote maintains in bold, conspicuous lettering that it is a "strictly nonpartisan organization and does not endorse any candidate for any office anywhere at any time. We just endorse voting."

It may not endorse candidates, but the organization does endorse specific legislative actions, including the repeal of a House resolution which prohibits the disbursement of student loans to convicted drug offenders (as someone who opposes federal student loans, but favors drug decriminalization, I can't decide if this is a good or bad thing). So, in the interest of keeping Rock the Vote honest, I'd like to recommend a few issues the organization should add to its roster.

First: Social Security. There is no domestic issue of greater consequence to young voters. Every young worker aged 18-24 (Rock the Vote's target audience) gives 12.4 percent of each paycheck over to yawning black hole called a "trust fund." Without reform, no one under 30 will ever see his "contribution" returned. Young people know this. A recent Gallup poll shows that a whopping 82 percent of young Americans favor some sort of privatization system that would enable them to invest some of their Social Security deduction. The same poll demonstrated that only 39 percent of Americans 18-29 believe they'll ever see any benefit from the system.

Second: Freedom of expression. The most blatant, unapologetic censorship today comes not from prudish moralists or government censors, but by the self-appointed guardians of political correctness -- in the workplace, in public forums, and certainly on college campuses, an area of particular interest to younger voters. You'd think that Rock the Vote would send traffic to organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the National Association of Scholars, and, say, the Center for Individual Rights, which stick up for freedom of thought on campus.

Instead, Rock the Vote links to several organizations that have either remained largely silent about PC incursions, or have defended them. A fourth, bizarre link goes to the Recording Industry Association of America, an organization that has recently taken to launching lawsuits against just about everyone under 30. Fairness mandates that Rock the Vote at least give a shout out to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Third: Rock the old folks. Why isn't the Prescription Drug Benefit included in the website's "Debt" category? This bit of generational warfare is nothing more than a massive transfer of wealth -- it earmarks considerable swaths of young earners' paychecks to stock geriatric medicine cabinets. Yet Rock-the-Votesters couldn't find room for even a cursory discussion of the issue.

Okay, so Social Security and Medicare reform may not be the sexiest issues. And God forbid a serious discussion of free expression get in the way of the MTV crowd's love of political correctness and collective war against "hate." But these ideas matter. And any group claiming to represent the interests of young people and then casually glosses over them is a fraud.

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