NICE, FRANCE--"Sure, I'll vote for Kerry," says my friend, a staffer for many notable Democratic campaigns. "But I sure won't work for him." Another pal, a former operative in the Clinton White House, confides: "The liberal base, especially the kids, find this guy horrifyingly boring. [Kerry is] better than Bush--who wouldn't be?--but their attitude is, 'I'm not gonna send him money, I'm not busting my ass.'"
Voters under 30, the constituency that single-handedly gave victory to Bill Clinton in 1992, don't care for Kerry.
Young people tend to skew left but they vote in low numbers. Clinton persuaded a record 38.5 percent to drag themselves to the polls, and won; the 2000 youth turnout was down to 32 percent. Youth apathy doomed Al Gore. If history repeats, Kerry's inability to energize the young will cost him dearly. An April 22, 2004 Newsweek poll showed Kerry in a statistical tie with Bush--45 to 42 percent. And Kerry's support is shaky, says the magazine: "Thirty percent of 18-to-29 year-olds pledged to Kerry say they could change their mind before the November election, while only 13 percent of young Bush voters said they might switch their vote."
A visit to John Kerry's website helps explain why going on MTV and hiring the lead singer of Blink 182 haven't done him much good. JohnKerry.com lists links to the candidate's stances on 27 topics from agriculture and AIDS to veterans and women's issues. There's only one platform plank targeted to the 18-to-30 set, and--unlike his litany of giveaways to senior citizens, who are America's wealthiest people--it's more of a threat than a promise. (Kerry's national service plan would force college kids to sacrifice two years of indentured servitude to the government to continue receiving financial aid.)
Young voters, writes Anya Kamenetz in The Village Voice, "are like any other demographic. They want to hear how issues affect them personally and what a candidate is going to do about them." Kamenetz calls Kerry "tone deaf" at campus appearances. At a recent appearance at the City College of New York, Kerry talked to an audience of students about, of all things, "tax-code reform, outsourcing, Social Security and Medicare." There was nothing for or about them.
If you're young, remember being young or know someone who is, you know what young people are most concerned about: paying the bills. A real estate bubble fueled by low interest rates has deprived the vast majority of Americans under 30 of even the hope of buying their first home. Student loan debt has never been higher, and both Bush and Kerry want to eliminate interest rate consolidation, the only tool that college grads can use to reduce their debt burden. Meanwhile, ever since the dot-coms crashed in 2000, most entry-level jobs have been low paying, if you can even find one.
Young men worry about Iraq. The generals say they're running out of National Guardsmen and reserves. With the U.S. losing the war and the Selective Service setting up hundreds of new draft boards for activation beginning in spring 2005, guys under 26 are Mapquesting the nearest Canadian border crossing.
Neither Kerry nor Bush have presented a credible plan to generate good jobs, stop the war, or address any other of the perennial problems relevant to younger voters. The costs of healthcare, college tuition and housing are out of control and off the agenda. "The next generation is starting their economic race 50 yards behind the starting line," says Elizabeth Warren, author of The Two-Income Trap. "It's staggering to me that this is not a part of our national debate right now."
Think about this the next time you hear Bush and Kerry argue over prescription drugs for seniors, gay marriage and which ribbons and medals went over the fence back in '71.
Kerry is throwing away the youth vote all by himself; the Republicans aren't even trying to steal it away. "While some young voters may be moving away from Kerry," writes Newsweek, "they're not moving toward Bush. Even as Kerry dropped 11 points ... from February to April, Bush only managed to increase his 41 percent showing of two months ago by one percentage point."
In February, of course, Howard Dean was still luring young adults from all over the United States to sleep on floors for the privilege of canvassing Iowa and New Hampshire. Unless Kerry acts fast to appeal to those kids, they'll sleep right through Election Day.
Ted Rall is the author of Wake Up, You're Liberal: How We Can Take America Back From the Right. Ordering information is available at amazon.com.
Copyright 2004 Ted Rall
Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate/Ted Rall
Ted Rall online: www.rall.com