This week, professional anger-tainment star, Ann Coulter, wrote a predictably provocative article for TownHall in which she calls for the repeal of the 26th Amendment, the Vietnam era Amendment which lowered the voting age to 18 in the United States. Taking it one incendiary step further (she certainly has a knack for that) Coulter suggests that the voting age be raised to 26, the age, according to the new health care bill, through which young people are able to be covered under their parent’s health insurance. In other parts she seems to suggest no one under 30 should vote. Maybe Ms. Coulter is getting tired of being booed at college campuses or maybe she just figured out there is a whole new minority group out there she can pick on and use to boost her profile. Ordinarily I’d just dismiss this as yet another hyperbolic rant from one of the best at it, but, sadly, Coulter voiced ageist sentiments I’ve heard far too often — from both sides of the aisle.
Much of her argument centers on the fact that young people, in recent elections, seem to overwhelmingly vote Democrat, and due to that extreme error in judgment (in her opinion) youth should be stripped of their right to vote. I think most sensible Americans know that disenfranchising someone purely due to which party they may vote for is about as un-American, undemocratic, and unwise as it gets, so I’ll get back to that later. Her troubling arguments are the ones I often hear repeated from many corners in this debate. She says Americans under 30 don’t have property, spouses, children, jobs or pay taxes. She says our brains aren’t developed till age 25. She says public schools have too much control over how children think. She says the drinking age was raised and the draft ended, so why not raise the voting age as well?
She even slips in a joke about lowering the voting age to 10 in her disjointed piece. She may joke, but lower is the right direction for the voting age — not higher. Perhaps not to 10, but 16 surely. Lowell, Massachusetts just passed a measure this week calling for the voting age to be lowered. While she mocks 20-somethings, even 16 year olds work and pay taxes. In fact teens pay over $10 billion in sales taxes alone, not to mention millions more income taxes. 80% of high school students have jobs. And of twenty-somethings like me? Folks in my age group are highly sought after consumers, workers, thinkers and innovators. Like most in my age group I work and pay taxes. I may not yet have a spouse or children, but, come to think of it, neither does Ms. Coulter.
Should only hard-working, tax-paying, married parents be allowed to vote? Should both I and Ms. Coulter be disenfranchised because we aren’t yet married? What of the millions of Americans who aren’t legally allowed to marry or have children? Ms. Coulter poked fun at the massive unemployment levels among youth, should all the unemployed be stripped of their right to vote as well? She also did a poor job of quoting brain science, but, like all others who quote it, she neglected to mention that while the brain may peak at some point between the mid-teens and mid-twenties, it begins to deteriorate soon after. Shall we take the vote away from all those middle-aged and older Americans whose brains have declined far below that of a teenager? I wonder also if she would support introducing some democracy and independent thinking in our schools if she’s so concerned about them controlling how kids think?
No, I don’t think I need to ask those questions. The reality is there is no logic in Ms. Coulter’s arguments. No logic to any argument for disenfranchising an entire group of people. Our republic was built upon the notion of “consent of the governed”. Thomas Jefferson so eloquently wrote that for the power of government to be just, its power must derive from the consent of the governed. Young people, like all Americans, are certainly governed. In fact the power of government falls particularly hard on the young, so perhaps more than anyone the young require the franchise to make such power just. Every movement to expand the franchise in our nation’s history has been based upon the universal truths and wisdom of our Founding Fathers. Every movement to oppose that expansion has been based on bigotry, discrimination and the desire to rule others. This ageist bigotry is what drives Ann Coulter.
Her ageism is a misdirected bold strike at partisanship. She blames youth for voting against Republicans and it is here we find her true reason for opposing the youth vote. She blames youth for electing Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Whether we should be blaming or crediting young people for their role in electing these two men is a matter for others to discuss, it is clear however that the youth vote was critical for both. Is this proof that young people are brainwashed to be Democrats? No. It means that Clinton and Obama ran dynamic campaigns that reached out to young voters, inspired them, and addressed issues they cared about. There is nothing unusual or improper about it. In fact this is a very good thing.
Ms. Coulter was nice enough to provide her own counter-example, in 1980 the youth vote was evenly split between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. In 1984, Reagan overwhelmingly won the youth vote. Not only did he win the under-30 crowd outright, he actually did better the younger the voter got. He won the 18-24 year old vote by a margin of 61% to 39%. In fact those mindlessly liberal youth Ms. Coulter was so quick to pick on were more likely to favor Reagan that year than those in her own age bracket. They also went Republican in 1988. Swung to Clinton in ’92 and ’96, and then, like the rest of us in the country, were evenly split between Bush and Gore in 2000. Very turned off by President Bush, the youth vote swung Democrat again in 2004 and 2008.
So what does this tell us? The youth vote is not a monolithic voting block that votes the same way every election, as Ms. Coulter would have you believe. The youth vote is very much up for grabs. They will support the candidate who seeks their vote, who speaks to their issues and who inspires them. Reagan did it in 1984, Obama did it in 2008. The importance of this cannot be overstated.
Our political views are often formed when we are young. Sixteen-year-old Democrats generally grow up to be sixty-year-old Democrats. Sixteen year old Republicans generally grow up to be sixty year old Republicans. So when any political party casts aside and insults young voters, they may find themselves alienating not just the “youth vote” but an entire generation who will turn against them for years to come. Look back at the Reagan years. He didn’t just win an election by catering to the youth vote, he won a generation of voters. The youth vote who broke overwhelmingly for Reagan in 1984, 18-24 year old voters, stuck with the GOP as they aged, and 20 years later, in 2004, they voted for Bush *more than any other age group.*
The young voters that broke overwhelmingly for Obama two years ago are likely to stick with the Democrats for years to come, and anti-youth pundits like Ann Coulter should get the blame for that. You want to piss off a voter? Tell them their brains are broken and that they shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Trust me, they’ll remember it when their brains start working again. This is precisely why Ann Coulter and any other ageist Republicans out there are destroying the Republican Party.
But there is still time to reverse this trend. Less ageist columns by Ms. Coulter are a good start. Next the GOP should think about reaching out to youth. They should find inspiring candidates like Reagan and Obama who address their issues and fight for their interests. Youth are up for grabs and you ignore and malign them at your own peril. If you think conservatism is incompatible with youth (it’s not), then you are the problem, not young people.
So I’ll make it easy for you, no matter which party you are from. Young people’s rights are being stripped away by politicians on both sides of the aisle. Schools spy on them, lawmakers scapegoat teens, therapeutic boarding schools abuse them, states censor them and developers treat youth like pests. Articulate a positive vision for their lives and their rights, and they very well may reward you at the ballot box. Not just in the next election, but for decades to come.