Reaping What We’ve Sowed

According to a recent article in Time Magazine, political science professors Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox asked more than 4,000 high school and college students if they would be interested in running for political office in America someday: 89% of them said “no.”

Think about that.

This aversion to public office certainly isn’t because young Americans don’t care about their communities or about the common good. Their generation volunteers at rates higher than preceding age cohorts. Their Facebook posts and tweets focus significantly on issues of justice and “fair play.” They are demonstrably concerned about the environment. Surveys confirm that they are less bigoted and more inclusive than previous generations, and that they feel an obligation “give back” to their communities.

But they’ve written off the political process. Whatever “public service” may mean to them, it doesn’t mean participating in government.

Evidently, they’ve looked at the current, toxic political environment–where SuperPacs and billionaires evidence the disproportionate influence of money, where pundits and politicians alike flaunt anti-intellectualism and tribalism and engage in the politics of personal destruction; where electoral success requires pandering to rabid and uniformed “base” voters–and they’ve decided to put their time and effort elsewhere.

I wonder what sort of students are in the remaining 11%–those who do express an interest in running for public office, who haven’t been turned off and disillusioned. Are they the idealistic ones? Or do they find the current cesspool attractive–and if so, why?


  1. No wonder, campaign operatives will look deeply into the opponent’s history to find something that will embarrass that opponent, or they will attempt to make the mountain from the mole hill. Pollsters talk about negatives and positives, so they try to raise the negatives of the opponent through attack adds. Any wonder young people look elsewhere?

  2. I think part of the problem is the stupidity of the news folks. When they are in front of a politician who is shoveling BS, they nod and act like it makes perfect sense. I think we need reporters who have some knowledge of their own. Then they might say “What in the world are you talking about?… That makes no sense” As it is, they accept any kind of BS as fact. Perhaps young people look at this and conclude that the entire enterprise is just plain stupid. Who wants to join the clown car? There must be a better way to spend ones life. A current example is the hyperventilation about the Clintons receiving speaking fees. Were the Republicans hysterical when Ronny Reagan left the White House and flew to Japan for a $ 6 Million Dollar speaking fee? Come on. Our national house is on fire and the political discussion is stupid. Yikes. Time to grow up.

  3. My comments here will indirectly fit into the subject of this blog; probably part of the reason young people shy away from seeking political office due to the current representation we are suffering under. And many are suffering in ways they have no way to fight.

    My 15 year old great-granddaughter Kiera is beautiful, super intelligent, loving and funny…she is also biracial. Kiera works at the Indianapolis Zoo taking pictures of visitors. Yesterday, Saturday, 5/30, she asked a white woman if she could take her picture. The woman responded, she could if she weren’t black trying to be white. This made Kiera cry; her boss asked what was wrong and when she told him, he had security remove the woman from the Zoo. I am waiting for that racist fool to file a civil rights suit against the Zoo, the city, the state and anyone else she can add because SHE has that right under the 1st Amendment. Kiera has no rights in this regard. Why would the younger generation, who are for the most part more accepting…and often more intelligent, want to support those who would back the racist with legal protection over the victim who has none?

    I will only add a comment Earl Kennedy made numerous times, years ago, “The more I see of people, the better I like rocks and trees.” Thanks Earl; that is a fitting comment here – regarding Kiera’s situation and the issue of this blog…why the majority of the younger generation has no interest in seeking public office.

  4. Seriously, who would want to associate with politicians? Can’t blame them at all. Week after week, there are sex and whatnot scandals on the news as well. I’d like to know about that other 11% though and why they are interested too.

  5. I had the pleasure of going back to grad school and being around so many wonderful young people. They are going into or starting nonprofits and that is the public service they are choosing as oppose to gov’t. I don’t blame them. I’ve thought about it but am terrified of what they would dig up or twist and how that would affect my family and do I want them to go through it.

    The 11%… I’m going to assume that a tiny fraction may have good faith intention but unfortunately I think the rest want the power and are attracted by what power can gain them. I’m 46, politics for my generation has always been ugly. I was in my 20’s for Clinton and witnessed the ridiculous waste of time and money over an affair…no offense but really a person in power having an affair?! Unfortunately most of us in my age at the time expect it and saw it as disgusting but not surprising….

    My parents are in there 70’s and have better memories…I do not,but my generation has grown up where so many people in power (priests, etc..) being such a disappointment and corrupted…it’s almost to be expected and that is sad.

  6. I think the nature of politics…the necessity for compromise…the deal making…is what turns off most people, especially the younger folks. Echoing the party propaganda instead of real solutions can be distasteful as well.

  7. If we look at our own history, politics has always been ugly, and as the Chicago politician once said, “Politics ain’t beanbag”. The problem is the growing cynicism incited by Fox News and the incessant forwarded emails targetting vulnerable people who are already inclined to be cynical and/or fearful. Along with some other factors, those variables reinforce that attitude. Someone is, as always, making lots of money from that, but it’s one of those short term gains with long term disasters at work. Nobody promised that this “grand experiment” would succeed, but we weren’t told that its biggest confounding variable would be the ones who think they are receiving what they want, yet who are in the front line marching to destruction. Ask any Fox News junky and the ones who get that forwarded email if they actually want to turn it off to save themselves and the country. Kind of like the liquor imbibed by the alcoholic. At the end, they will ask “why did God do this to me?”

  8. Doug; compromise IS a necessity – in politics and in life. It is the deal making that is the downfall of politicians at all levels of government. If you read “The Audacity of Hope” you would know that President Obama’s hope for this country then and now is that Democrats and Republicans could once again sit at the bargaining table and find solutions to our problems so we can move this country forward. I am old enough to remember when this was done; at times with much wailing and gnashing of teeth but workable solutions were found through compromise.

  9. We no longer have politicians who are statesmen, as in Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar. Both appeared capable of negotiating and arriving at fair compromises with the other political party without resorting to name-calling, mud-slinging, and cheap sloganeering.

  10. The problem is actually very simple. As sheila mentioned, It’s a “cesspool.” Some cesspools are worse than others. The one in Jacksonville, I might add, swirls around like a tornado and if you don’t watch what you’re doing the monster lurking in the deepest part will pull you under.

    As a matter of fact, I’ve been teaching young activists an understanding of the Jacksonville cesspool for the past few months.

    Unfortunately, my students came to me for advice a little too late. They are called the “Jacksonville 19.” I offered my help, but it’s too late. Nothing can help them now, including the US Constitution. They’re in the grips of the courthouse monster.

    “The sleep of reason brings forth monsters”`This is Goya’s title for one of his Caprichos, inscribed on the etching itself.

    “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”`Friedrich Nietzche in Thus Spake Zarathustra

    From my recent experience, I believe many young people stay out of politics from the fear of entering the abyss. It’s teachable.

  11. @Mark

    I’ve always identified with Nietzche, and I especially identify with another of his quotes, “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”

    I’m not by nature a person who longs for membership in any tribe; hence, I often feel unknown and unheard in the current political/tribal wars. Perhaps our younger generation that Sheila writes about might hold similar personal feelings.

  12. Marv, my apology for addressing you as Mark. A person’s name is important, and I hope my belated apology is accepted.

  13. I am not too alarmed at the statistic. Considering the age group, they still have a quite a few decisions in front of them, such as career choices, what to major in a college, where they may want to live, marriage, etc. A no response to politics at 18 or 22 years of age does not mean no at age 35, or 45.

  14. @BSH

    Thanks for the quote from Nietzche. It makes me feel better. I grew up with neither tribe nor much of a family. That’s not necessarily all bad.

    It forces my opponents to take me on, one on one. I can’t be pressured from the outside. That’s a problem for them, especially if they’re white, since my biological father was the best “white” basketball player of his generation in Jacksonville.

    However, the game was different in the 30’s. It was based a lot on reaction, especially on the defense. But I did inherit his ability to defend. And is probably why I was confirmed by Congress to be the Deputy Director of the Office of Emergency Planning (Civil Defense) when I was only 29.

  15. There’s no doubt that we’ve screwed up the country, a few generations and their only home.

    Evolution, both physical and cultural, is not driven by being smart because the changes that are tried are pretty random. It’s about the changes better adapted to the environment out producing those at odds with it.

    Is then this current chaos something that time will demonstrate human resilience or failure?

    I personally am way too hopeful to accept our ultimate failure.

    Our generation was given everything and is leaving destruction behind. But that doesn’t make us representative of the ongoing human race. Already there are signs of sense replacing nonsense. There are reports from the front reminiscent of mid WWII of momentum changing to our side.

    The Axis was defeated, probably so too will be oligarchy greed and disrespect for knowledge.

    But we are the adults now and our contribution to those who will restore progress is to be clear about our failures. What false gods did we worship that opened the door to chaos?

    We over served ourselves on entertainment and energy. We thought ours was the era of free but we have been blindsided by an inept accounting system that hid rather than revealed the costs.

    Now we’re seeing that energy is as expensive at it was prior to uncovering a buried treasure of it because the treasure is finite and our appetite infinite.

    Entertainment into our home carried with it viral toxins that have been eating away at our free will.

    Learn kids, learn. From our experience. Our failures. You don’t have to follow us except in time. Be independent. Learn both good and bad from us and be selective about what you carry on.

  16. @ Pete

    I remember when I was in college in the 50’s they were saying my generation would be the transformation generation. That we would not be the rulers. The numbers just weren’t there
    because of the low birth rate during the Depression and WWII.

    What we have to offer is the first hand knowledge and understanding pertaining to the how, why, and where we got into this mess we are now in. The younger generation must be furnished with this necessary information or it will be impossible for them to change the disastrous direction we are now moving.

    Like you, I believe it’s possible for a major change in direction.

  17. I now see, what’s missing. It’s a school. There has to be another Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions like the one in Santa Barbara in the 50’s and the 60’s.

    My partner Harvey Wheeler was the Program Director for that school. I visited with him a few weeks before he died in 2004. He wanted me to start up a similar school again. That’s what’s missing. My website makes mention of a Teach-in I called for five months before Barack Obama was elected President.

    From 2004 to 2009, I was the care giver for my long time companion who was afflicted with Parkinson’s. I wasn’t in the position for another major undertaking like starting a school.

    A few months ago, the young political activists in this area asked me to be their leader. At 77. They were upset that I rejected their offer. Something is definitely missing. It’s the right kind of school.

  18. @ Marv: You’ve received the clarion call! I think most, if not all, of us would see the need for such a school. Age is not a detractor these days (think Grandma Moses and others who did not let age stop them). If you don’t feel up to it, there must be others among your friends and associates who would take your idea and run with it. I think that several others of Sheila’s readers could get involved. Sheila can’t do it all by herself, try though she may.

  19. @Betty

    Thanks for the support. I wouldn’t be able to talk like this if I hadn’t be directed to Sheila’s blog a few weeks ago. Sheila is very unique person, but so are the people who have been drawn to her via the blog.

  20. Marv, a school or schooling?

    I’ve bumbled around trying to contribute to schooling on global warming and made a small dent but wish for more. Mostly what I’ve learned so far are my limitations. I admire Sheila’s accomplishments and her influence through teaching but it’s only been since retirement that I’ve been able to exit the rat race and focus on what’s most important as a legacy. I sense that she came to that realization much earlier.

    So I’m still wondering. Is their a more effective soapbox for my meager talents?

    I preach and learn here but it seems like I’m preaching mostly to the choir.

    Any ideas on schooling climate science of the basic sort to more who could benefit the future with it?

  21. @Marv and Pete: We former teachers of English are also guilty of typos, subject-verb disasters, and punctuation problems. You’re off the hook! Free to go!

    We are all preaching to the choir except for maybe a plant or two here and there. And that’s OK. We have to vent somewhere, and Sheila in her wisdom lets us do just that.

    We truly are reaping what we’ve sowed, but there are bright young people out there who know the bunk and the junk when they see it. Maybe not that many young people as there were back in our day, but there are some. They need to step forward and swing into action. Sheila and Neil deGrasse Tyson can’t do this all by themselves.

    If only some level-headed, clear-thinking Republican (is that a stretch?) had warned us about global warming or climate change, we would be well on our way to saving this Earth. Because it was Vice President Al Gore, whose home state of Tennessee has shunned completely, we are in this ecological mess. He was right then and he’s still right. As someone here pointed out recently, there’s not an Earth B. This one is it and we need to take much better care of it.

    Now then…I feel better. Class dismissed.

  22. Nobody with a brain will run for office, because the other guy’s opposition research will destroy your life, and campaign finance requirements are so demanding that nobody but the well-backed can afford to keep all the filings straight.

    A quick way to ruin your life is to run for office.

    When we remove official recognition and entrenchment of the two-party system, it will become more attractive to run for office, as no candidate can shoot at a dozen opponents very successfully.

  23. @Pete

    I’m sitting here looking at a book entitled: James Dobson’s War on America by his right hand man Gil Alexander-Moegerle. I’m inspired. What we need is a “Democracy War College” with Sheila as Dean. Sort of kidding. Not really.

    Then you could teach a basic course in the Environmental or Climate Change Section.

    But before then, I don’t think you can find anything better than Sheila’s Blog.

    However, at this point in time, I don’ think you can do any better than Sheila’s Blog.

  24. The tragedy lies in the fact that we could. We could put Bernie in the white house with Liz as his vice. We could clean out the senate in one election year and scare hell out of the house. We could do it. If we could take our heads away from smart phones.

  25. @Earl

    I wish someone like Sanders could be President, but you know that’s impossible. But I believe we can make significant changes before the Presidential Election.

    We have to create a strong, ORGANIZED pro-democracy voice that replicates the inter-reaction of SHEILA’S BLOG. If not, we will have another Bush as President.

    Hillary Clinton can’t lead without it. Nor can she WIN without it.

  26. Marv, perhaps a more appropriate role for you would be as a mentor/advisor to the folks who want to start the school. Schools are complex things and I suspect you’ve learned a lot about what can go wrong and how to make things go right. You don’t have to be the person running the show, but perhaps being available for conversation and consultation would be something you can reasonably do.

    You will have to teach them what is reasonable to ask (“write this proposal for us” probably no, “point us at some references” or “read over this draft and see if we’re getting the right idea” probably yes), but that is a normal part of being a mentor.

    In my own professional life, I have benefited from mentors who have graciously given reasonable (and in some cases well beyond the call of duty, but not because I demanded it) amounts of their time and expertise. Now that I’m the one with expertise (even though at my age, what I don’t have is time!), I do what I can to pay it forward by helping colleagues when they ask. Perhaps that is a better model for your involvement in this project.

  27. Gopper – I won’t take that statement personally because you don’t know me. I have a rather well functioning brain, thank you.

    I will note that I ran for Council because everyone else I asked to run told me “You first”. I ran a pure grass-roots campaign and am proud of my effort, and the effort of my supporters. I will also mention that this unrepentant bleeding-heart liberal got support from many Republicans who liked my simple message. I was against crony capitalism, had the brains to read and understand the details, and had a decent-paying, non-political day job (so I wasn’t in it for the money).

    What we really need is for more people who want change to become agents of that change. The organization I co-founded after the first Obama campaign was an attempt to capture the enthusiasm and turn it into sustained political activism, to encourage people to support other candidates and to become candidates for office themselves.

  28. Len; Gopper recently did respond to me directly by informing me that people stopped using dictionaries after 8th grade. I didn’t mention it at the time but, if true, that may explain why there are so many politicians who don’t know what they’re talking about and voters have no idea their “leaders” lack knowledge and/or intelligence enough to be elected. Water seeks it’s own level.

    The majority of those responding to Sheila’s daily blog are intellligent, knowledgeable and well spoken. I learn much from her blogs and from most of those who comment…don’t always agree but that is what makes life interesting. I had the good fortune to be one of the underlings during Mayor Bill Hudnut’s 16 years and was always proud of the job I held, always as support staff to involved, dedicated leaders in this city. There are a few of those Hudnut workers still with the city; proving their worth was recognized by those who came after him. With few exceptions, they fit your description of who and what is needed today; people with enthusiasm, political acitvism and I will add loyalty to the people of this city and state, to regain what has been lost due to SCOTUS backing the money supported GOP.

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