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Young and disillusioned by American politics

  • August 16, 2011 - 9:26 PM

As a young adult, I feel used by our nation's political system.

In the 2008 election, my generation was mobilized by then-Sen. Barack Obama. His outreach to our age group and his inspiring message of hope led us to believe that someone was willing to stand up for our interests in the highest echelon of public life.

 For a while, we were the center of attention.

Obama's movement cast youth as being at the helm of politics. Our passions on education, immigration, and health care were taken seriously.

I remember thinking to myself, as Obama took his oath of office: I can finally look forward to a better future for American youth.

Almost three years later, I find myself dismayed. It was clear that the negotiating table during the debt ceiling debates afforded little space for youth-focused policies.

As usual, entitlements, taxes and defense dominated the discussions. The debt deal terminated subsidized loans for graduate students and cut public education spending from the primary to the tertiary level.

The Pell Grant program narrowly survived the "compromise" and the DREAM Act was never brought up.

Meanwhile, Congress again refused to raise taxes on the superwealthy and remained tepid in cutting defense spending. As a result, S&P reduced the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+.

Now, the marginalization of America's future makes it more difficult for my peers and me to finance our college educations.

My generation has been manipulated and betrayed. We are perhaps the most vulnerable segment of American citizens.

We're not, in the strictest sense, regarded as citizens. We energized political life in 2008 and continue to serve public offices as unpaid interns, but our interests are largely ignored in Washington.

We don't have multibillion-dollar lobbying firms advocating for our well-being, like the AARP or the unions. Millions of us are under 18 and do not have voting power.

Most of us don't make enough money to pay substantial taxes. Almost all youth-focused policies are not entitlements, and are thus subject to substantial cuts, unlike Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Also, our welfare isn't considered a national "security interest," even though it should be. An unhealthy, uneducated and impoverished younger generation does not bode well for the future of the United States.

Yet, the fate of my generation is used as one of the chief persuasion points by politicians and pundits, or when organizations solicit money.

The message goes like this: "The future of our children is at stake" or "Do not let our children inherit [insert societal problem].)" Our vulnerability is a tool -- used to advance political interests that marginally benefit our age group and significantly benefit the older population.

In most cases, like this recent debt compromise, our generation ends up losing. We pay for programs that help the aging population -- the Baby Boomers. This older generation understands fully that their sheer numbers will force youth-focused discretionary programs to be cut.

It's difficult to say this about our elders. But, in effect, the Baby Boomers have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy social welfare programs -- from their parents' G.I. Bill to today's Medicare Part D -- paid for through debts and cuts borne by their descendants.

As opportunities and resources fade for my generation, so do privileges that come with them. Perhaps that is what the "adults" in Washington understand but do not want to tell us "children."

The future looks bleak and our inheritance will be but the remnants of a great nation our parents and grandparents once enjoyed, but for too long abused. Perhaps these cuts are meant to get us used to lower expectations about our future.

Call me a cynical youth, but "winning the future" is a message that rings hollower than ever.

Michael Manansala is a senior political science major at Macalester College in Saint Paul.

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