The youth of America have been in the news in the last few weeks, and some of the subjects being written and talked about are worthy of attention.
The New York Times reported on its front page the other day a rising phenomenon of particular interest in Republican circles. Canvassers for the Romney campaign are finding that many young conservatives no longer share traditional Republican beliefs on such subjects as abortion and same-sex marriage. Some canvassers refrained from bringing up those hot-button issues for fear of driving off potential voters who place social values issues far down their list of priorities, well below jobs and the economy.
Democrats have also witnessed shifting priorities with some traditionally liberal students and young professionals, particularly in college and university cities and major urban cities. While polls show President Barack Obama with a healthy lead among voters under 30, there is a growing skepticism about the rise in federal spending, the looming budget crisis, ballooning debt and the long-range viability of Social Security and Medicare, both of which concern young voters, many of whom doubt that they will ever benefit from either entitlement program.
And so both major parties face dilemmas. Do they cling to rigid positions that have resulted in dysfunction and gridlock? Many Americans, not just young ones, want some action out of Washington. The majority of American voters seek a blend of fiscal conservatism and at the same time an acceptance of a variety of lifestyles. Neither major party seems to get it. Third party, anyone?
Pollster Mark Penn spoke on NPR about the open-mindedness of the younger generation: "Younger Americans are expressing themselves as considerably more socially liberal than the older generation, and it's interesting because the older generation now is the generation that voted for Kennedy. So whether it's living together without marriage, whether it's homosexuality, the younger generation finds them quite acceptable. They're socially more tolerant. They see a much broader world out there."
Newsweek may not have looked for subtlety in that headline in a recent issue, but there is no question that the larger question is what is to be done for the college students and young professionals who are witnessing their dreams shatter before their eyes.
If any generation had the right to storm the Bastille of arrogance, ineptitude, greed, indebtedness and sheer stupidity, it is the one the baby-boomer generation brought into the world.
The "boomers," the generation born between 1946 and 1964 that by all accounts had everything, has found a way to leave their children and grandchildren an economic wasteland and a potentially barren future. They bought lavish houses and expensive cars they didn't need, invested badly, made saving for retirement an afterthought, and now by necessity will work into their 70s while their children, the future of this country, ask, "Do you need room for cream?"
Perhaps one form of celestial payback is already playing out. A generation that themselves delayed marriage and children now watch their own offspring do the same, but likely for different reasons. In the end, even the most pampered of American generations may miss out on something credit cards cannot buy -- grandchildren.
Back to the garden
There is no telling what the effects the fate of young, educated, technologically adept men and women, struggling with college debt and underemployment, will have on the upcoming presidential election. Among the many young people profiled in the Newsweek article, few had much faith in government having the wherewithal to get the country back on its feet. They did, however, envision a multitude of possibilities in entrepreneurship and expanded lifestyle choices. Many see little attraction in seeking to emulate the professional and social lifestyles of their parents. They may have no choice. The jobs aren't there, and the future is murky.
Optimism serves as the elixir of youth. It is the rising generation's enduring attribute. It will need to be at its best in the days ahead.
Jack Topchik is a retired editor whose passions include Shakespeare, the Frederick Keys and films in which people talk in complete sentences. He writes from Frederick.