Dear Dr. Wes and Gabe: You’ve written a lot on politics and how young people should be interested in elections. This year you seem to have gotten your wish, but I wondered what you’re saying to kids who feel really upset that Bernie Sanders isn’t going to be their nominee.
Wes: I watched the Watergate hearings after school. My parents took me to Henry Levitt Arena in Wichita to see Sen. Sam Ervin speak about his experience leading them. He was like a movie star to me, coming down off that black-and-white TV in our living room and out on to the roundhouse stage. I was 11 at the time.
So I’m proud of young people, getting active, standing up for racial and economic equality, demanding better treatment and a brighter future not only for themselves but for others. Against the bleak and tortured backdrop of what passes for a presidential election (sort of), it's delightful to see kids at rallies for Sanders and in the streets (peacefully) protesting for what they believe in. Even their untempered idealism is refreshing in a year that will go down as our most cynical yet.
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In 1972, Norman Lear spun off Maude (played by Beatrice Arthur) from "All in the Family." She was the iconic feminist of the times, more caricature than character, loud and opinionated. She voted for McGovern. So did my dad. Maude never got over his disastrous loss to Richard Nixon. Three years later she ended up depressed and in psychotherapy after spending her family’s savings to run actor Henry Fonda for president. I’m not sure Maude actually asked Fonda if he wanted to run.
That’s my fear for the current generation of young liberals, too, that they’ll become disheartened by the Sanders defeat and end up in my office, dejected and ready to give up on all things political. That’s sad because their generation has just begun a journey away from John Mayer’s (2006) dejected ode to vague dissatisfaction, “Waiting on the World to Change,” and begun to actually change it.
My prayer in these last weeks of Double Take is that the dream we’ve spoken of so often over the years will come to pass and kids will understand this year that politics, though far from perfect (Brexit, anyone?), is still the best hope they have to find a better way — and then lead us there.
Gabe: From the very beginning, a flaw existed in Sanders’ campaign. He was by far the farthest left member of either governing body. I’m not critiquing his vision or his politics. To be frank, they are pretty close to mine. But for a presidential candidate to actually deliver what he promises he needs more than just partisan support in the House and Senate. He needs enthusiastic, likeminded politicians, and for Senator Sanders, they simply did not exist.
This begs the question — why didn’t any fellow progressives exist? Bernie Sanders had a large base of support, often polling higher than Hillary Clinton. He amassed a huge donor base and held record-breaking rallies. His ideas enjoyed broad support among a lot of constituents. What happened?
Simply put, the people showing up to these rallies, many of them new to elections, did not vote for progressive legislators, governors or any other offices right down to dog-catcher. They even struggled to show up at the primaries. In reality, young people have a horrible track record of turning out to vote, just as George McGovern found in 1972. In the recent Brexit vote, only 35 percent of remain-oriented 18- to 34-year-olds voted, compared to over 80 percent from older demographics, who favored leaving the European Union. It’s the same in the United States, especially in nonpresidential election years, when many of the Washington elite who Sanders railed against were elected.
What if you hate both sides? This view has gotten so popular it’s become a running joke. But the cold, hard truth is that politics is compromise. If you sit around waiting for your perfect candidate to waltz in, you’re hopelessly naïve. The only way to vote for someone who shares your values 100 percent is to run yourself. Until you do, learn to analyze the existing candidates and find out which fits you better. Democracy functions better when you deliberate rather than hit the lever fast.
Sanders has introduced millions of young Americans to politics. He shed light on countless issues, and made the Democratic Party more progressive. But in the end, he lost. If his supporters want his revolution to not be in vain, they need to remember to vote and compromise.
— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not: Successful Living with ADD & ADHD.” Learn about his writing and practice at dr-wes.com. Gabe Magee is a Bishop Seabury Academy senior. Send your confidential 200-word question to email@example.com. Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.