Youth aren’t excited because politics is all hucksterism

R. Bruce Anderson

President John Kennedy signs the Peace Corps bill, September 22, 1961, with R.  Sargent Shriver, first director of the Peace Corps.

Summer kind of snuck up on me and took hold of me about two days after we got back from Germany. When I return, I look forward to a break, no matter how short, to reflect on the year, find my back, and read some of the things I couldn’t find time for during the school year.

I saw that Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new essay was out now, and fortunately at the same time I was tackling the reading list for my first fall seminar on the American Presidency. Goodwin, the historian whose Pulitzer Prize-winning book “LBJ and the American Dream” was central to any story about the modern presidency, had just released “An Unfinished Love Story: A Personal History of the 1960s.”

“Unfinished…” is at once an autobiography and an autobiography of the Godwin family. Her husband, Dick, was a speechwriter for both Kennedy and Johnson, while she served as a presidential fellow in the White House for Johnson. It’s a commentary on the presidency that raises some crucial points at this pivotal point in this election year, when the vast majority of Americans feel completely disinterested, exhausted, or disgusted — young voters above all.

It seems to me that the period from 1960 to 1988 was a turning point for the highest office. It included the presidencies of Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan: people from both sides of the aisle who rose and fell in dramatic fashion—deep tragedy, high comedy, incredible progress…but in all respects, inspiration.

Today, Carter’s disastrous phrase, “malaise,” comes to mind.

This is why there is no “youth vote”. The next generation is dying in politics – and embittered by what politics can achieve. They had never seen that happen.

In her meticulous prose, Kearns tells the story of the idea of ​​the Peace Corps—from a speech JFK gave in Ann Arbor to students at the University of Michigan. It wasn’t planned. Kennedy “deviated from his speech,” she wrote.

“How many of you…would like to spend your days in Ghana?” Kennedy asked the crowd. “…How many of you are willing to serve as a diplomat and spend your life traveling the world? On your willingness to do that, not just to serve a year or two in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think the answer will depend on whether a free society is competitive.

No options? What about those naughty liberals? | R. Bruce Anderson

In the days that followed, student petitions exploded first in Michigan and then across the country, demanding that Kennedy turn his off-the-cuff remarks into reality. The Peace Corps was born.

Imagine being a child growing up in a Democratic home, living through the final moments of the Eisenhower administration, when JFK invited them to join him in the “New Frontier.” Imagine being a child in a conservative household, enduring the “boredom” that befell Jimmy Carter, when Ronald Reagan burst onto the scene with his vociferous call for a comprehensive review of the role of government – ​​and four years later, he invited us to imagine “morning in America.”

Johnson Civil Rights Bill. Nixon conquered China and reached détente with the Soviet Union. Has imagination in politics stopped with the new millennium?

R.  Bruce Anderson

We need to re-find America. The slogans of “build back better” (back?) and “make America great again” (again?) will not achieve this goal. Where is the vision? Where is the emotion? Where is the hope for the future? Where is the positive patriotism in creating a better world?

The people I teach, on field trips, learning and thinking, are the future. It is clear to me that they have the enthusiasm, interest and raw patriotism that can be turned on like a firehose when properly stimulated. For these people, ideology and party are less important than vision.

Once this horrific election is over, we simply must find a way out of the punitive, negative bargaining that prevails in American politics at every level.

R. Bruce Anderson is the Dr. Sarah D. And El. Kirk McKay Jr. in American History, Government, and Civics and the Miller Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Florida Southern College. He is also a columnist for The Ledger and a political consultant and on-air commentator for WLKF Radio in Lakeland.

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