Why have a youth debate?

Because with both candidates hammering Social Security and Medicare, young voters need some extra political motivation.

Published November 6, 2000 9:00AM (EST)

The 2000 presidential election is close enough that young voters could literally decide its outcome. But the age demographic with the lowest voter turnout is once again floundering for inspiration to vote. This lack of inspiration seems again to be a result, in part, of an unfortunate chicken-and-egg scenario: Young people don't vote because politicians don't address youth concerns, and politicians don't address youth concerns because young people don't vote.

I'm as averse to politics as the next disenfranchised young person. But I also grew up in Lexington, Mass., where the first battle of the American Revolution took place and is re-enacted every year. I've consistently watched young Lexingtonians dress up as colonial militia and pretend to be massacred for my right to vote.

So I vote. Though, I'm embarrassed to say, almost solely in presidential elections. I just never want to cast an uninformed vote, and it takes every scintilla -- every physical and spiritual calorie within my body -- to weed through all the mudslinging and willy-nilly wheedling that politicians do, and perhaps need to do, to get elected. I require four years of political convalescence. That impetus just barely nudged me into the ballot booth for the first two presidential elections I was old enough to vote in: 1988 and 1992.

In 1996, however, I just wasn't feeling the urgency. So three weeks before the presidential election, I picked up the phone, called President Clinton and Bob Dole, and asked them to answer 10 questions from young voters nationwide in the 1996 Online Presidential Youth Debate. Surprisingly, they agreed. Two generous and inspiring young political advocates, Farai Chideya and Deroy Murdock, offered to co-moderate the event. The candidates responded. I got my nudge and voted. I assumed this was the dawn of the new, politically active me.

Nope. Less than a month before the 2000 presidential election, I found myself once again floundering for inspiration to vote -- as I'm sure other voters around 30 or younger who didn't find the candidates' choice topics, including drug prescription benefits and Social Security privatization, that urgent. So I went to the candidates again. While Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan declined, George W. Bush and Al Gore accepted. And I pooled -- with the contributions of Farai and Deroy -- more questions from Salon's younger readers.

Forgive me a political rah-rah for a moment, but I do hope this debate will help mobilize young voters, or at the very least give voters a chance to compare and contrast the responses to these questions from our candidates. They were willing to respond to the questions. Now you can at least decide whether you like the answers.

By Anthony Tedesco

Anthony Tedesco is the founding creative director of 1996 Online Presidential Youth Debate for Strong Bat's magazine, Crisp.

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