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Motivating new voters

01/27/04 12:00AM By Frank Bryan
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(Host) Commentator Frank Bryan wonders if enough new voters will actually turn out for the New Hampshire Primary to influence the outcome.

(Bryan) Now in the sub-zero temperatures of northern New England - a place the great historian, Arnold Toynbee, trivialized as above "the optimum climatic area" of the United States - the process whereby the world's most powerful democracy elects its leader is working itself out.

To one who gets paid to pay close attention to this process and to explain it to others, the election of the American president often seems hopelessly complicated and divisive. But perhaps we can extract one simple construct from the primary being held on Tuesday across the river to the east on which we can all agree.

The construct is public participation and the agreement is that we need more of it.

Certainly the hope of Howard Dean's campaign has been based on a capacity to energize voters who have not been actively involved in politics before. When we understand that even in the general election it takes our democracy massive effort to turn out just 50 percent of the voters, how can anyone disapprove of this goal?

I began my teaching career in a small high school in the Northeast Kingdom in 1964 when we were willing to send 18 to 21 year olds to their deaths in Vietnam but not willing to allow them into a polling booth in America. My college teaching career began in 1968 in the teeth of the student revolution of activism against the War in Vietnam - an activism that extended to civil rights, women's issues and the environment. What an exciting time to be a young college professor.

Times have changed and I long now for the electricity that danced in the air over the campus in those days. Now matter how one felt about the issues - I myself was often appalled at the actions taken by many of my students - one felt that at the core American democracy was healthier then.

Cynics may say that it was the generational selfishness of an unfair war that brought the young into the process and that they will not be back unless a tragedy of equal proportions emerges again. Perhaps. But I would rather believe that the fault is our own (and this includes the generation of earlier activists who are now looking middle age right in the face). In truth our children are not to be blamed for turning away from the dance of deceit and divisiveness that is the modern electoral process.

To blame our children would be to make the age-old error of parenthood. Our kids have more common sense than we think. I do not know Howard Dean's motives in attempting to bring the young into the process. They may have been selfish. But so what? I hope he succeeds, not so much for his sake as for ours.

This is Frank Bryan from Starksboro.

Frank Bryan is a writer and teaches Political Science at the University of Vermont.
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