The Magazine

Panting After the Youth Vote

From the November 17, 2003 issue: The Democratic candidates make fools of themselves.

Nov 17, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 10 • By MATT LABASH
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Back in the spin room after the debate, the candidates enter one by one. On a TV platform, Gideon Yago is complaining to Paula Zahn that the candidates failed to "really open up a dialogue." Yet they are willing enough to talk freely about their youth-vote outfits. When I ask Wes Clark what was going through his mind when he showed up in the same clothes as Kucinich, he looks as startled as a possum in the high beams, but regains his composure, and answers, "I thought Dennis Kucinich had excellent taste." When I ask Edwards why he stripped down during the debate, he seems to have trouble keeping it real. "Sometimes, formality...can push people away. Especially young people. Sometimes they feel uncomfortable. I want them to feel comfortable."

Outside, I run into a group of middle schoolers from Newton. "You're the children, you're our future, get in there," I say to them, in the interest of establishing a dialogue. They can't get into the party, they complain, because alcohol is being served. The youth issues that concern them most, they tell me, are gay rights and birth control. "It happens every day in our lives," says one 11-year-old girl. I have to admit, I'm taken aback. When I was 11, the only issues I cared about were football cards and "Gilligan's Island" reruns. Ihadn't yet formed my political worldview, unlike the junior-high boy who told me, "I like Al Sharpton. He's awesome! He's not, like, boring."

Being not boring is what it's all about. As Rock the Vote president Jehmu Greene says, "Now that we are done rocking the candidates on live television, for the next month we will keep on rolling and build on the energy and excitement . . . with a Rock the Video contest"--in which youths can select their favorite candidate video--the "perfect way to keep the party going." It gives them, she says, "a direct way to provide feedback." Establishing dialogue is, like, a two-way street.

Matt Labash is senior writer at The Weekly Standard.