Of Truth and Fiction

Guest: Jehmu Greene, President, Rock The Vote These days, it’s a given that there are elements of truth and fiction on both sides of any issue. Campaigns often exploit these ambiguities both to idealize their candidates and lampoon their opponents. But this is not the kind of debate the people of America, and especially the young people of America, need or want.

Young voters (18-30 years old) aren’t as set in their ways politically as older voters. They are not committing to political parties the way they are committing to the issues at stake in this election. Young voters are far more likely than other demographics to change sides based on the ideals and visions that the candidates present. They want the candidates to show them the big picture and how it affects them, not isolated statistics and sound bytes. And they know the difference. Young voters want and deserve to hear the good, bad, and the ugly; after all, they will have to live and work with the repercussions of today’s choices.

What the debates are lacking in candor, they make up for in factoids of questionable veracity. Young voters probably didn’t buy it when Vice President Cheney said he’d never met Senator Edwards, and Edwards missed an opportunity to present a verifiable truth and question the Vice President’s motives in misrepresenting him. It was a significant moment for me, because while Cheney attempted to defame Edwards’ character, his work ethic, which could be a big-picture issue for young voters, he did it by transparently lying. Any weight his accusation could have had was negated by its speciousness, and we had yet another sound byte that failed to resonate.

When Edwards argued that 90% of coalition forces that have died in Iraq were American, Cheney responded that Iraqi forces constitute 50% of the dead. The debate of semantics that followed (does Iraq count as a member of the “coalition of the willing”?) obscured one indisputable truth that neither campaign seems to want to acknowledge: 80% of American troops in Iraq are under the age of 35. After Congress conducted a phony vote on the draft bill earlier in the day, neither candidate addressed the growing concern young Americans have about who is going to fight on the front lines in a war that has been described by Condoleezza Rice as lasting a lifetime.

These are the people fighting and dying in this war, and who are worried about being drafted. These are the people who are losing healthcare coverage at staggering rates, who are leaving college with a debt burden that approaches the size of that of the average American family. These are the people for whom the issues are everything, and these young people will turn out to vote. Whom they vote for depends entirely on who shows them the big picture, the clearest facts with the least spin, and with the respect this powerful, informed young electorate has earned this year.