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American politics: Out with the old, in with the youth

By Jennifer SifferlenSpecial to the Chronicle

The federal government has shut down, furloughing over 800,000 federal workers. The treasury will default on the nation’s loans, plummeting the value of the dollar, if the debt ceiling is not raised by October 17. The 112th Congress has been called the most ineffective congress in US history. The list of problems facing Washington goes on and on.

Patrick Lockhart, 2014 candidate for Indiana’s House District 91, wants to be a part of the solution. And at just 20 years old, he is one of the youngest to ever have run for the office. If elected, “one of my main objectives is to re-energize interest in politics for young people and lead the way for my generation’s involvement in their government, both locally and nationally,” said Lockhart on his campaign website.

With the politics of the nation at a standstill, Lockhart and his candidacy raise the question: does the United States need a surge of young politicians in order to move forward?

Dr. Amy Baehr, a professor of philosophy at Hofstra University, thinks we do. “Civic respect—where we respect those we disagree with and recognize that they, too, were elected and represent the views of some portion of the people—is missing in our politics,” she said. Baehr believes that young legislators with a fresh perspective and sense of civic respect “would be fantastic” for the United States.

But youth signifies a lack of experience that makes voters like Hunter Blain, a freshman at Hofstra, nervous. “Age limits were set for a reason,” he said.

Another Hofstra freshman, Colleen McKeown agrees. “It’s weird to think that someone my age would be in politics,” she said.

Dr. David M. Green, a Hofstra political science professor, calls not for young politicians to achieve change or seasoned ones to maintain the status quo. Instead, he suggests the need for progressive candidates. “Washington desperately needs more idealistic people,” said Green. “It doesn’t matter if they are 25 or 70.”

Whether or not youth in legislature is called for, one thing is certain: the road to office is tough for these young politicians. Youthful candidates must inspire confidence in a hesitant public.

The U.S. has an “image of younger people being immature and not being able to take the world seriously,” said Hofstra sophomore Sabrina Yates.

Such an image can hurt young political hopefuls when it comes time to raise funds. If a young candidate does not seem serious, financial benefactors are unlikely to contribute to his or her campaign — a death sentence in almost any campaign.

With the American political system in disarray, Patrick Lockhart wants to grow the political identity of young Americans. And he is not alone: Green would encourage Hofstra students that are “passionate about an issue or set of issues, or passionate about a career in public service” to follow Lockhart’s example. Baehr urges “Hofstra students to get involved in public issues generally,” through volunteering and communicating with one’s representatives, and most basically, by staying informed. “If we don’t know what is going on,” she said, “we can’t vote for people who will fix things, and politicians won’t know what needs fixing.”

Young candidates may or may not be a step toward solving Washington’s problems. But either way, this generation will soon inherit the nation—whatever condition it’s in.

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Government shutdown sparks need for change