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?