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A star-studded cast of speakers brought a message of idealism and activism to kick off this weekend's Youth Vote '96 conference at the Institute of Politics (IOP) last night.
George Stephanopoulos, President Clinton's senior policy adviser, gave the keynote address. He then participated on a panel which included Clayton Mulford, a former aide to H. Ross Perot, and Joseph Malone '78, the Massachusetts state treasurer, both of whom gave speeches of their own last night.
Provost Albert Carnesale introduced Stephanopoulos by saying that young people should have a particular interest in politics. As reasons why, the provost pointed to their idealism, energy, fresh perspective and, most importantly, the fact that they have the highest stake in the future direction of the United States.
When his turn came to speak, Stephanopoulos emphasized the importance of voter registration, explaining that "it's crucial that we re-instill faith in the democratic process in this country."
He also raised themes from Clinton's re-election campaign.
"You have to speak to them where they live," he said of voters, pointing to a decrease in the use of traditional media and a shift towards new forms of public address, such as MTV.
While some students have expressed disenchantment with the political process under Clinton, Stephanopoulos was quick to defend the president's achievements.
"We made a lot of promises, and I just don't buy that premise that nothing happened," the Clinton aide said.
Stephanopoulos cited such recent legislation as the motor-voter bill, the national direct student loan program and AmeriCorps.
Stephanopoulos also emphasized the role of government as an instrument of change.
"Government is the way, whether we like it or not," he said. "You can't simply make government the enemy and hope it will go away. Not voting is not an answer....It's abdication."
"The one quote I look to for inspiration whenever I get a little bit down is from [playwright and Czech Republic president] Vaclav Havel," Stephanopoulos said. "Politics can't just be the art of the possible, but also the art of the impossible: changing people's lives for the better.'"
Stephanopoulos illustrated the challenge with a personal example: his own choice as a college senior between joining the Peace Corps and accepting an internship at a think tank in Washington.
Stephanopoulos eventually decided to work for the think tank, but stressed that both alternatives stemmed from the impulse to serve his country.
"I don't know if was the right choice, and in the end I suppose it is a matter of taste and temperament," he said. "I admire people greatly who do direct service. Maybe someday I'll go back to that. Both are valuable both are critical."
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