Jim Hightower is fond of saying that no matter how cynical you are, it is hard to keep up.
While our soldiers are facing an impossible task in Iraq and 45 million Americans woke up this morning without health insurance, the U.S. Senate met all weekend to hand out tax breaks to corporate contributors. I'm not making this up.
They gave $42 billion to multinational companies, $10 billion to buy out tobacco corporate farms, and benefits to Alaskan whalers, importers of Chinese ceiling fans, NASCAR racetrack owners and on and on.
They didn't raise the minimum wage, wages for our troops, or provide health care for the uninsured.
In the midst of this corporate grabfest, a 19-year-old Marine from Muscoda was killed in Iraq on Saturday.. Was he number 1,068 or 1,069? Do you think the lobbyists, with the ever-present flag displayed in their lapel, stopped for a moment of silence while working out the last-minute deals off the Senate floor? We do know that neither President Bush nor Dick Cheney will attend the funeral. They missed the first 1,067.
It would be easy to simply conclude that the system is broken and corrupt - and to not vote. But there is something very interesting going on in this election period. I don't hear people saying, "There isn't a dime's worth of difference" between Kerry and Bush.
I find traveling around the state that there is more interest in this presidential election than any election since 1968. I predict the biggest turnout for those who are 18 to 21 since 18-year-olds got the vote. There is an unmistakable intensity in the air that was missing in 2000, 1996 or 1992. Most have never been involved before but this year they are going door-to-door, attending rallies, registering voters, blogging, calling, and they are talking about politics.
Is it the very real prospect of a draft? Is it the threat to public education or a woman's choice? Is it the prospect of concealed weapons, $3-a-gallon gasoline, outrageous tuition increases, or is it the realization that 1,068 soldiers have been killed and 7,500 seriously injured? I think it is all of the above and the hubris exhibited by the administration when Bush said, "Bring 'em on!"
Not one young person has confided in me that he or she is motivated by the deficit even though their generation will pay for the profligate spending of Bush the Prodigal. The USA Patriot Act almost never comes up in questions or in conversation. What does come through loud and clear is the concern young voters have over American indifference to the Kyoto environmental treaty and world climate change.
When Bush and Cheney turned their backs to the United Nations, it may have been applauded by the chicken hawks who don't now and never will have sons or daughters serving in the military, but it scares hell out of those who may well be asked to serve.
Ambassador Paul Bremer joined virtually every general leaving the service in saying that we never had enough troops on the ground and we need more now. How does Bush cure that? Put in more troops. Where do they come from? Ah, now you have our attention. A student approached me in Portage during a rally last Sunday and said, "I'm really nervous. Suddenly I'm looking at my friends and wondering if they might get killed in Bush's war." In Muscoda the students know that feeling.
The warnings not to eat too much fish because of mercury poisoning, the melting glaciers, the threat to clean air and water, the sight of corporations with outstretched palms strike a chord with these young voters. They came to Fighting Bob Fest and listened intently to Robert Kennedy Jr., U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin and Jim Hightower and many were transformed from observers to participants in politics. They get their news on the Internet, from Amy Goodman on "Democracy Now," from Jon Stewart on Comedy Central, WORT, NPR and Air America. They saw and were moved by "Fahrenheit 9/11." This election is dominated less by Charlie Sykes, Mark Belling, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Fox. Their day has come and gone. Alternative news sources have filled the void.
So I'm very encouraged. Students awakened when John Kennedy issued his famous challenge to youth. The civil rights and student rights movements followed as students emerged from a deep slumber.
There are lots of signs that students are ready for another challenge. But it is not Bush's war. It is the quest for peace. It is not world domination but cooperation with the world to save our planet. No matter how the election turns out, young people, in age and heart, are on the move and it is exciting.
Ed Garvey, the Democratic nominee for governor in 1998, is a Madison lawyer and the editor of the fightingbob.com Web site. E-mail: email@example.com.
2004 Capital Times