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A Clear Choice: Coming of Voting Age in America

April 2, 2005
By Bryan M. Russell

On Friday, April 8th, I will turn eighteen years old. In doing so, I will be eligible to register to vote under the party of my choosing. The right to vote is something that too many Americans take for granted. It never ceases to amaze me that --after so many people fought so hard and so long to even have the chance to vote in a free democracy -- if we get only 60 percent of the eligible voting population to turn out in an election year, it is considered to be a good thing. The right to vote is not something that I, nor any young American should take lightly. In the last three years I've gathered as much information as possible in order to make informative decisions in regard to politics, issues, and candidates, and I will continue to do so from this point on. Although I have a lifetime ahead of me to learn more about historical and current-day issues and how they affect our daily lives, I would like to share with you why I feel that there is only one party that best represents me, and all Americans.

It is my belief that we should encourage young people -- no matter what their political persuasions or beliefs are -- to get involved as much as possible in the political scene. When I started high school I could've cared less about politics or current events or anything else of that sort. I probably couldn't have told you the difference between a liberal or conservative, and didn't really care if I didn't know either. I knew my parents voted Democrat most of the time, but they decided to turn around and cast their ballots for George W. Bush in 2000. That was fine by me, as Bush seemed like a pretty good guy at the time. However, as most of us know, the world has changed drastically since that 2000 election. On a clear, warm September day, two planes smashed into the World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon, and one more crashed down in rural Pennsylvania. I can still remember watching the television live in my freshman English class, shocked and confused. Suddenly I, and many others across the country, were paying attention to the news.

Soon, this country was at war. At first we enthusiastically supported our President, the man who bravely led us through those terrible times after September 11th. However, a year and a half later, we were in a different war. While many still supported the President, some began to question his motives. I began to listen to both sides intently during the debate concerning the war in Iraq, and read everything I could get my hands on, regarding the war and many other issues. I guess you could say that it sometimes takes a world-changing event to wake people up, and that certainly was the case for me.

I stayed closely attached to the news and political events leading up to the 2004 election. I watched all the Democratic presidential primary debates, both conventions, stump speeches, and all the Bush-Kerry debates. I threw myself into the fight to knock Bush out of office, by going door to door in the hot summer heat, handing out Kerry flyers, stickers, and buttons, and directing citizens to the nearest polling station. Although events didn't turn out the way we all hoped they would, there is still much to look forward to in the future. The Democratic Party is the minority party in the House, they are outnumbered in the Senate, and have been ousted from the White House. However, to quote James Carville, we Democrats must never forget: We're right, and they're wrong.

It's time Democrats were proud to be Democrats once again. The party of choice for a young person is quite clear. Throughout history, Democrats have consistently been on the right side of the issues, while Republicans have been a footnote, nothing more than obstructionists trying to block something that eventually changed this country for the better. Frequently, I hear people say, "Oh the Democrats never do anything." I reply that the Democrats have never done anything, except of course win two World Wars, give us the New Deal, Social Security, Medicare, Civil Rights, and the Space Program, push women's rights, and defend the elderly, the poor and handicapped. The Republicans, by comparison, have given us Iran-Contra, Watergate, the always-entertaining-but-highly-futile search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and ... help me out here ... oh well, never mind. Looking at past history alone is a clear reason to choose the Democratic side. But it is not the only one.

The philosophies of both parties are so vastly different that anyone can see which side is more beneficial to associate with. Democratic philosophy relies on helping those who cannot help themselves. Democrats believe that government should help people who fall through the cracks of society and need a helping hand along the way. No one thinks government should be doing everything for people. But there are many times where all people need is a lift to get them back on their feet, which government can provide. In his last speech, Hubert Humphrey said, "The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped." I think this perfectly details the philosophy of the Democratic party.

There is a popular phrase in politics that goes something like this: "If you are below the age of 30 and you aren't a liberal, then you haven't got a heart. If you are above the age of 30 and you aren't a conservative, then you haven't got a brain." While it is funny, the point of the phrase is quite clear. Young people are expected to be idealistic, thoughtful, and always thinking that they can change the world. However, once you become a bit older, get out in the world, you suddenly realize that life isn't all that great, and that you really can't change the world, or anything much else for that matter. This thought is the essence of the Republican party. Republicans don't care about the other guy, trying to make it behind them. Say you are struggling to make it in this world. Then suddenly, someone comes along and does you a great favor and puts you in a position to succeed in life. While you are a top dog, you look over and see another guy struggling to make it. Do you give him some help? In theory, if you're a Republican you do not. You have absolutely no obligation to help anyone but yourself. That is what conservatives mean when they tout "individual rights." Unfortunately for them, the Constitution begins with the phrase, "We the People", not "I, the Individual." We are not one nation full of separate entities each working separately for their own separate goals to enjoy by themselves separately apart from everyone else. If we were, America would never have been successful.

This past summer, at the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama made a speech which touched my heart. He said, "If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for their prescription and having to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandparent. If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It is that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper -- that makes this country work." This is the Democratic Party. Cynicism has never gotten us anywhere. Paranoia has never done anything for America. Greed has never won us anything. This is the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans.

If you think I overstate the case, I do not. To the Republican, everyone is out to get them. Someone is going to come and take away their guns. Someone is going to come and take away their Confederate flag. Someone is going to come and take away their money and give it to poor people who don't work and sit on their butts all day and watch TV. Some greedy trial lawyer is going to sue them and then take a large chunk of the money for themselves. Someone is going to teach their kids some weird thing in public school. Someone is going to let Tom and George across the street get married. Someone is going to shut down all the churches and turn the United States into a gigantic Soddom and Gomorrah. Paranoia fuels conservatives. Because they are amazingly paranoid they also become amazingly cynical toward life in general. If you believe everyone is out to get you, then life really isn't that much fun. It really is quite sad.

Thankfully, there is another alternative, which, come my birthday, I will be quite proud to be part of. So today, I have a message for all Democrats. We must always be proud of who we are, what we did in the past, what we are doing in the present, and what we will do in the future. And we must always remember that there is a clear difference between us and our Republican counterparts. We are the party that stood up and kicked Herbert Hoover off the office, when he was having fancy dinners in the White House while people starved on his front lawn during the Great Depression. We are the party that sent Barry Goldwater packing in 1964 when he ran on a platform against civil rights. We are the party that stood up to Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and congressional Republicans in the mid-nineties when they decided to dismantle our entire domestic infrastructure. And we are the party that is constantly standing up to George W. Bush and his cronies as they give out tax breaks to big businessmen, try to tear apart Roosevelt's New Deal, and attempt to think up more excuses as to why exactly we are in Iraq, when Osama Bin Laden is still running loose.

When a person turns eighteen in this country they are faced with a variety of new freedoms and possibilities. They are also faced with many hard decisions that they must make on the road of life. I'm sure that over the years new issues will cause me to re-evaluate my beliefs on certain topics. However, right now a decision must be made. I know where I stand.

 
Bryan M. Russell is a senior in high school in Sarasota, Florida. Send him your questions and comments at bmrcane@comcast.net.

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