Running From Office
Ihighly doubt any American born after 1975 is all that impressed with the concept of government right now. I say "concept" because it feels like all the real senators and representatives and important executive officials are holed up somewhere in Montana, hunkering down in preparation for the Y2K crisis, leaving us with holographic copycats. Virtual government.
How else to explain President Clinton's State of the Union address, which sounded like it was patched together from the "comments" section of focus group feedback forms? How else to explain the Republican Party's voluntarily throwing away two House speakers and the 2000 election? And most of all, how else to explain the fact that our President is currently being impeached, and no one seems all that concerned?
No, I doubt anyone born after 1975 is all that impressed, but I doubt that we're all that surprised, either.
Unlike the Republican Party, which is still clinging to some esoteric notions of chivalry and duty, we grew up after Watergate. We grew up not only with an instinctive skepticism of government, but the proof to back it up. Irancontra. A Gulf War that looked an awful lot like a battle to keep the world safe for oil. The CIA too busy with an illegal scheme to overthrow Central America to chastise contacts for flooding poor black neighborhoods with cheap crack cocaine. All of that, plus Dynasty, The Bonfire of the Vanities and sex, lies and videotape.
So the fact that our government is looking more and more like an episode of Looney Toons isn't all that frightening. But it sure won't make many of us want to join the fun.
Take Marc Stad '01, for instance, the vice president of the Harvard-Radcliffe College Democrats, who plans on pursuing a political career. "I think that one has a far greater obligation than providing solely for himself and his family; we all must also contribute to our community."
So Stad has decided on politics. He's doing it the face of the impeachment, in the face of a Congress that fights like children on a playground, in the face of being called a gov jock. He knows what he's up against.
"There was a time when it would be a great honor to see one's son or daughter elected to office or hold a high appointed position," he said. "Today, however, the status of the politician has sunk drastically relative to just a decade ago."
Like most Americans, I'm not concerned that the president is really going to be thrown out of office. That would be asking for a popular revolt. At some point during this trial, someone in the Senate is going to take a look at a poll and put an end to all of this craziness.
What I've become concerned about is that the bright young people interested in government as a career are going to take one look at this whole mess and run the other way. The upcoming decades are going to require politicians who are in it for the right reasons. If I were someone like Stad, for example, I'd be genuinely concerned about the environment I was jumping into.
Perhaps I'm naive, but I think most young people are a little more concerned about those issues Clinton skimmed over in his speech--immigration and education, just to name two--than who did what to whom in the Oval Office. We grew up watching more scandalous things than the Kenneth Starr report on TV, and it neither shocks nor titillates us.
What does shock us, though, is the fact that no one is doing anything about those problems that are real to us. The impeachment of a president over a feat of semantics seems a lot less real than the fact that my mother teaches at a school where 12 different languages are spoken, a lot less real than the schools I've seen where there aren't any books for the students.
The stock market and the booming economy are great, but they're only great for a few people, and the rest of us are riding the tide. When the bubble bursts, we'll need some politicians who are willing to make some tough choices about the way this nation is going to work. We'll need people who are willing to be real politicians, instead of just playing them on TV.
Caille M. Millner '01, a Crimson editor is a history and literature and Afro-American studies concentrator in Eliot House.