Now this sort of rot does make me mad. Someone named Andrew Ferguson, who is clearly an establishment journalist (“Andy Ferguson's ideas were, as usual, very subtle and secretly forceful” — Davd Brooks) and writes regularly for Bloomberg and is a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard, has written a column with the provocative title, Will the Dixie Chicks Ruin U.S. Democracy?.
Unfortunately, the title is the best part, as the article's thesis is that young people should be discouraged from voting, and that the Rock the Vote campaign, and the Two Million More in 2004 young voter registration campaign are—get this!—dangerous [sic] to democracy because they will bring out the yahoos. Mr. Ferguson, whose photo suggests he may have reached a certain age, is apparently all aflutter at the “specter of two million more children in turned-around baseball caps queuing up for the voting booth, as they nod drowsily to the thumps drilling through the earplugs of their portable MP3 players.”
“Young Americans,” Mr. Ferguson quotes the National Conference of State Legislators as concluding on the basis of a survey, “don't understand the ideals of citizenship; are disengaged from the political process; lack the knowledge necessary for effective self-government; and have limited appreciation of American democracy.'' Of course, without some comparison to other age groups we have very little idea of what to make of this fact, but never mind. (I tried to find the actual survey online, but failed. The http://www.ncsl.org/ web site was not responding.) In the end, if you really believe in democracy, that number matters when considering how much to increase the state education budget, not when deciding if you should encourage people to vote.
There are an enormous number of ways in which our democracy could be improved. Disenfranchising younger voters, or even discouraging their exercise of the franchise, is not remotely among them. If they're old enough to fight our wars, they're plenty old enough to vote.
Based on Mr. Ferguson's essay, though, I'd have say he's a pretty poor poster child for his age group's supposedly superior comprehension of democratic principles.
Update: The National Conference of State Legislators website woke up, and I found the survey. It seems voting participation rates and the belief that civic participation matters are noticeably lower for younger citizens than for older ones. Rather than blaming young people for their civic disenchantment, the National Conference blames…Mr. Ferguson and his age cohort:
The findings of this public opinion survey leave little doubt that Baby Boomers and the World War II generation have failed to successfully pass on the ideals of citizenship to the DotNet generation that is now coming of age. They have botched President Bush’s challenge “to teach what it means to be citizens.”