These days it is very easy for young people to become disillusioned with American politics. The government shutdown, self-interested politicians advising Americans to opt out of getting health insurance, the seemingly-endless negative campaigns: All have the effect of turning young people off of potential careers in public service. The impression nowadays is that politicians don't care at all about the people they are supposed to represent, young people in particular.
This got PolicyMic wondering: What would members of Congress say to young Americans who are disillusioned with the political process? We went down to the Capitol to get some answers.
Some of the answers PM received were thoughtful and encouraging, while others seemed to perfectly illustrate the divisiveness that drives young people away in the first place. The vast differences between the answers is also symbolic of the vast chasms that exist between politicians on the issues facing the country.
"Well, I can understand why [young people] are [disillusioned]. That goes across every age category, as well. But I would hope that they would still consider public service someday, if they’re considering. Don’t allow this to sidetrack them. We need their talent, we need their energy, their creativity, and all of their commitment to the country. This is a tough time for the country, but I think we’ll get through it, and we’re gonna need all the help we can get."
"Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Don’t just turn an ignorant eye to it and say, 'What a mess.' Be part of the solution. That’s why I got engaged in politics, because I thought it was a mess and it continues to be. But I like digging in and getting my fingernails dirty and trying to help solve this."
"I think young people are going to be extraordinarily frustrated. I came of age when serving in government was a very noble thing. Now you have conservatives in our government, who have this belief that if they don’t get 100% of what they want, they’ll shut down the government. And it’s one of the most irresponsible actions I’ve seen. It will, I believe, turn off young people from participating, which will simply put more power in the extremes."
"I think that as [young people] view the Tea Party Republicans, they must question whether or not, in fact, there is a sincerity or a full understanding of the impact that these kinds of activities can have among young people in our country. I want [young people] to be idealistic. I want them to know that government can and should work. I want them to know that since 1789, the intent of the Founding Fathers was for us to work together to solve problems…I think Tea Party Republicans are the pluperfect form of the Republican paradox, which is that they don’t believe in government, but they have to run for office in order to make sure that the government doesn’t work, and that’s their only agenda here in Washington. That, unfortunately, creates an historically difficult problem for us to solve, if one of the two key negotiating partners has a deep interest in the non-success of the very activity that they have been elected to achieve."
"I think young people will react the same way that everyone else seems to be reacting — which is wanting the government to figure it out and work together and reconcile differences."
"I think if they, if they’re not alert enough and aware enough to know that one person’s really causing all this, maybe I don’t want them to get in public service."
PolicyMic: And what person would that be?
"That’d be Harry Reid."
"I don’t think it [the shutdown] will be permanently damaging. It might inspire [young people] to want to do better — to get engaged and do better, number one. Number two, I think it, hopefully, will be an educating event in which people recognize that government can’t function under our Constitution unless the government appropriates some money to run it. So that creates a problem. And when you know where the power lies in our system – the president proposes and advocates and both houses have to pass it. And when you have a disagreement, you’ve got a serious matter that needs to be solved."