In the past, college students have not been known for turning out to vote to advance a platform based on issues deeply connected to their futures. But even at GW, where Super Bowl Sunday will be dwarfed by Super Tuesday, some students focus so closely on single issues that they lose perspective on what would be best for our nation and future. It is not rocket science – voters gravitate towards voting on the top issues that matter to them on a personal level. But as the next generation of Americans, we must look beyond the now and assess the needs for tomorrow. If there is to be any political incentive created toward improving the position in coming decades, then the youth must make an effort to vote based on future oriented platforms aimed towards attacking the issues like keeping social security alive for us and protecting our environment well into the future.
One of the grand narratives of this political cycle has been that for the first time ever a generation might leave the world in far worse shape than ever before. There is enough evidence to suggest that the damage done by short-term thinking could lead to irreversible consequences. Think, for example, of the current state of our education system, the environment, health insurance or Social Security. If you are still not convinced, what about the $9 trillion in national debt that will be left for us?
Angry yet? Chances are, probably not. That may be the biggest problem. Students are not passionate enough to vote based on expensive issues that they will be funding. In an October 2007 column for The New York Times, columnist Thomas Friedman characterized the situation: “I am impressed because they are so much more optimistic and idealistic than they should be. I am baffled because they are so much less radical and politically engaged than they need to be.”
Many students will go to the ballots with things like abortion and gay marriage weighing heavily on their minds. While these are certainly worthy causes that merit attention and debate, voting solely on them could lead to electing a candidate that is far from versed on universal issues.
So what issues are going to be most pertinent for today’s college students tomorrow? You have read about it before, and for good reason: the environment. We are at a point when the debate about global warming is coming to silence as even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an extremely respected scientific group, has determined that humans are having at least some effect on climate. Because a huge portion of the world’s population lives close to the sea in low lying areas, rising sea levels could lead to hundreds of millions of refugees.
The significance of social issues versus those mentioned above becomes even more evident when considering the relative effects of each. Since the late 1980s, abortion rates have been on the decline – down roughly 25 percent since 1989. This has left about 1.2 million abortions being performed per year in America. However, abortion impacts a fraction of the number of people affected by climate change, a problem that reputable sources predict could lead to hundreds of millions of “climate refugees.” In Bangladesh, for example, entire communities are being displaced by rising sea levels that the scientific community attributes at least in part to human causes.
I understand the anger that arises with the debate over the always-controversial subjects of abortion and gay marriage. I do not wish to belittle those important debates in our society. However, I do want to draw the parallel that when taken in scope of the increasingly scary prospects of global issues, these will affect relatively few people. Though those issues should weigh upon our political decisions, as they certainly will affect mine, the effect they have upon our vote should be tempered by the weight of other increasingly important issues.
There is much to be said about the enthusiasm of some people on particular and always-controversial issues. Yet we cannot, as a generation, give up the opportunity to create solutions to such far-reaching and universal issues. Think carefully about what long-term endeavors a powerful showing by college students could address in this election. Either that or don’t plan on buying beachfront property anytime soon.
The writer, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.