With the election coming up, I have been engaged in quite a few political conversations with my students and ex-students in the past few months. Through these conversations, one thing has become abundantly clear--the polarization of our political system is in danger of collapse. I'm sure most of you would say, "That's great news." However, do you really mean it?
I see most of us commenting on Facebook and commenting on articles, mostly through condescending and often inaccurate memes, even analyst on television, completely dedicated to their red roots or their blue. We've identified with a party, memorized its stances on every key issue, and adopted them as their own. We make fun of the spin room crap shoveling while strapping on our own boots to join them.
So what do the youth believe? I read a comment the other day, and forgive me for not remembering which of my Facebook friends posted it, that said, "Everyone is a little bit Libertarian." Somehow young people in this country have been able to see past the giant donkeys and elephants in the room, to somehow ignore the red or blue glasses that tint, or perhaps taint, all of our adult viewpoints, and see another future for America, a future where political polarization and hatred are replaced by complete unity and harmony from sea to shining see. Not red states, not blue states, but purplish states.
It seems that young people, though they sometime take up their parents' (and probably grandparents') torches and argue over Obama and Romney, really do mostly agree on the problems that face our country--and the answer for them has become Libertarianism.
They realize our government has gotten too big, that social programs are being taken advantage of and leading to laziness, that government that's too big and infringes upon rights (see USAPATRIOT ACT) is downright scary. They've read 1984 and recognize Orwell's Big Brother looming over them. However, they do not see the Republicans as the solution to that problem. They are smart enough to see that the debt exploded under Republican rule.
They also see the Republicans as backward-thinking folks that infringe upon basic rights and are saturated in bigotry. They believe in marriage equality and may even be truly post-racial in some circles (if only their parents would let them be). They don't hate gays. They believe in freedom of religion, but they don't think that means ending contraception and abortion. They know that rape is rape. They are disgusted by Republicans and their attempts to send us back to the 1920s.
Let's not forget that this is a generation, like the 60s and 70s, scarred by war. For most of them, they don't remember a world where we weren't at war. Their earliest childhood memories are of 9/11, and they've known relatives that have spent more of their lives overseas fighting than arguing at the dinner table. It's a shame the way they've grown up, and they blame George Bush and Republicans for the most part for this.
They aren't too thrilled with the Democrats either. They see liberals as big spenders who want to control their lives. Yes, the Dems would let them marry who they wanted. Yes, the Dems would let them buy contraception. Yes, the Dems would care for the needy. But with the thought of being saddled with a massive debt to China, they also see the Dems as enablers of big spending and laziness.
They fear a government so big they have no choices. They fear Obamacare and socialism. They've been taught to hate Communism and that our troops have been fighting for American values by uprooting political systems around the globe that control their people too much. They've been taught to hate China and call them currency manipulators. They fear the Dems as much as the GOP.
There's a reason Ron Paul, at his age, was so popular among the youth. Most of his contemporaries probably hear about hash tags and think you're talking about "those hippies" and their "marijuana cigarettes." Now Gary Johnson (the official Libertarian candidate) is even becoming a darling, unfortunately for him, among those not yet old enough to vote. Why is this?
The kids today want freedom, unadulterated freedom. They want gay marriage, they want free markets, they want to legalize drugs (not to use them but because they can't understand how the government can tell us what to do under any circumstances), they want free speech and a freer press. In short, they are pure-blooded Libertarians. Even those that don't know what the term means.
I took a test the other day on isidewith.com. It told me that I matched up 83% with Barack Obama and 23% with Mitt Romney. No big surprise there, right. Well, the surprise was that I matched up with 85% of Gary Johnson's beliefs. I've made fun of Libertarianism as wanting to have your cake and eat it too for a long time. But what if you can? What if we all are a little bit Libertarian. I'm wondering if America knew Libertarianism existed if Libertarian candidates wouldn't win in a landslide. Think about it.
Most of us do complain about government spending and the debt. Most of us do think people are taking advantage of foodstamps and other benefits. Most of us do fear the government controlling us. On the other hand, most of us have gotten to the point where legalized marijuana and gay marriage don't scare us. Not only do most of us think contraception is okay; over 90% of woman use it and 100% of men, while not wanting to discuss it as a political point, are grateful for it.
We want freedom. America was founded on it. But it seems the Democrats and Republicans are perfectly willing to preach freedom while cherry-picking which freedoms they are for or against. The youth seem to see through this. The youth just wants to be free. After all, that's what we've been teaching them since they started school. They see that slavery can exist in many forms.
Imagine a world where 47% of America doesn't hate 47% of America. Where everyone can agree on one basic set of ideals. We were founded on these ideals. Freedom is our credo. I can't help but thinking there is a shade of purple we can all get behind, kind of like looking through a pair of those 3-D glasses, where what's right in this world will just pop out at us and not be so hidden behind the words "it's complicated." I wonder if the young folks are right.
The editor-in-chief of the high school newsmagazine I advise has written her November cover story on third-party candidates not getting enough attention. She is an adamant Libertarian. I see her fighting and arguing for the rights of all and freedom for all on a regular basis. That's what she's been taught to do. How can that be wrong? I love that about her, so how can I tell her that's not the right way just because it's not the left way?
She talked about feeling disenfranchised (though she didn't use that word), and I told her, in a rather condescending way, that she would have to get used to it because she supported a part "nobody cares about." I apologized later and told her that I meant that it was unfortunate nobody cares about it, not that it wasn't important. And that's what I truly believe. We should get to hear all sides, not just the sides the media wants us to hear.
But I was wrong. People do care. Just because they don't know the option exists, or because they are too young to vote, doesn't mean nobody cares. They do care. They care a lot. I see it on Twitter and Facebook. And if we don't beat the righteousness out of them, and don't somehow convince them they have to pick a side in the unending fight over two belief systems--philosophies that don't really truly exist in all practicality--if we let them wear those 3-D glasses and see the world in a beautiful shade of purple, maybe this will be our future.
While I'm a liberal and believe in taking care of the least among us, I can't help but think that America as a whole is all little bit Libertarian. They just don't know it yet. But with young people like my editor-in-chief leading the way, some day they may. A child shall lead them. Don't think it's possible? Still think we're stuck in a two-party system that will never be shed?
Look at Colorado. This state might be fully legalizing weed in a week or so. The hippies who smoked around a circle like on That 70s Show are now prominent leaders in government and industry. Look at inter-racial dating and marriage. We are quickly becoming more and more post-racial because of the extent of mixed-race families in this nation. As the children of those first desegregated schools have grown up, so has the idea of racial equality. Racial equality without government-coerced quotas.
So, what we as the establishment see as a crazy fringe group, a fad of the naive young people of our nation, may one day be the reality. After all, when I was in high school, sadly to us, the idea of a black president was a fantasy, an impossibility. Things change, and the youth are the barometer predicting that change. I see it permeating my classes. They're sick of leftist big government. They're sick of right-wing fundamentalist bigotry. They're truly ready to move forward. And they see that forward as Libertarianism. In a way, they're already fighting for our freedom. Who are we to stop them?
What would Abe Lincoln think about this election?