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The State of the Union: What Do Young Voters Want to Hear?

by NextGen Journal | Everywhere

F Posted in: News and Politics P Posted on: January 22, 2012
State of the Union Image courtesy of the official White House photographer

On Tuesday, President Obama will deliver his 2012 State of the Union address- and in doing so, kick off his re-election campaign in earnest. He’s expected to dwell heavily on the themes he laid out in Osawatomie, Kansas last month, especially the concept of “an America where everybody gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everybody plays by the same set of rules.” He’s also expected to talk in-depth about boosting jobs growth and reducing the cost of higher education.

Young voters will play a critical role in the President’s re-election efforts over the next year; some close to the White House have even proposed the idea of a ‘generational pincer movement,’ drawing heavily on the youth vote, as the very core of President Obama’s strategy. Given his overwhelming lead among 18-29 year olds in 2008 (he garnered roughly 2/3rds support), and the subsequent fall in his approval rating among millennials, it will be a tough pitch- and millions of students and young people will surely be watching his first attempt at that pitch on Tuesday night.

What will those young voters be looking for? The first, obvious answer is jobs. With youth unemployment hovering around 18%, 74% of young voters identified ‘jobs and the economy’ as their number one issue in a December poll from Harvard’s Institute of Politics. Rising tuition is also a major problem, and the White House will clearly attempt to target both in their effort to reach young voters.

Millennials, though, are a diverse generation, and President Obama will need to address much more than just the jobs market to regain his formerly broad youth support. What does he need to say about critical issues like climate change, deficits, the DREAM Act, and more? What does he need to do over the coming months, and commit to doing in his next term? We asked prominent young advocates for those causes to offer their takes:

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On Climate Change

Abigail Borah is a student at Middlebury College. She served as a youth delegate at the 2011 Durban climate conference, where she made headlines for her public address

“Last month, I stood up at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and implored the U.S. negotiating team to set aside partisan politics and commit to a fair, ambitious, and legally binding climate treaty. Failure to address climate change is not only wrong-headed short-term political expediency, but also a long-term obstruction to solving the grave political, economic, and environmental challenges of our time. Young people around the country are asking President Obama to stand up and speak out for urgent and ambitious action to combat climate change.

Go ahead, you can do it, President Obama. Break the silence. Be a leader.

Just say the two simple words: climate change.”

Read Abigail’s Full Piece

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On Deficits

Dan Horning is a student at George Washington University and the D.C. director of Students for Solvency.

“$15,536,279,221,858.36. That number, representing our total national debt, is just unfathomable. What’s even scarier is how that debt affects our generation, those of us ages 20-29. Since 2006, interest on the national debt has been above $400 billion each year. In 2011, it was greater than $450 billion. That makes it the fifth largest piece of the Federal budget pie.

This election, President Obama has the opportunity to change course. He has the opportunity to veto any budget that spends more money than the government has. He has the opportunity to simplify and clean out the antiquated, 15,000 page tax code. He has the opportunity to bring together state governors, doctors, patients and experts and create a laboratory to re-invent health care in the US. He has the opportunity to say no to bailouts and government favoritism.

The $15,536,279,221,858.36 question this year is, will he?”

Read Dan’s Full Piece

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On Immigration

Mandeep Chahal is a pre-med student at UC Davis. She came to the U.S. at age six as an undocumented immigrant, and faced a tough deportation battle last summer.

“On Tuesday, I will be paying close attention to what the President says on the topic of immigration. He is running unchallenged, and to undocumented students such as myself, he seems to be the best hope compared to the Republican candidates- who have made it clear that “illegals” are not a priority. However, with Obama’s track record on immigration, I hesitate to support him a second time.

In the first 2 years of his presidency, Obama deported over 1 million undocumented immigrants  — almost more than George W. Bush deported during two terms as President. He ripped apart families, banished talented young DREAMers, and threw the undocumented community into a state of panic. Instead of protecting the people of this country, the Obama administration is hunting them down and deporting the future doctors, lawyers, and politicians of America.”

Read Mandeep’s Full Piece

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On Health Care

John Corker is a third-year student at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. He is also a host of ‘Radio Rounds,’ a medical talk show.

“President Obama’s plans for fixing health care will be my sole purpose for watching his address on Tuesday.  It’s pretty much the only thing on God’s green earth that could pry me away from studying just three days before the biggest surgical examination of my young life.

When I graduate medical school next year, I will own a full quarter million dollars in educational debt; 80% of which can be attributed to the cost of attending medical school.  And most of our other problems in health care also boil down to money.  The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ObamaCare”) includes some admirable components.  But it is not the answer to these problems.  It does nothing to create an atmosphere in which we can effectively reduce the cost of delivering health care.

As things stand, health care costs continue to rise while American patients continue to suffer.  And the PPACA will never be allowed to take full effect unless President Obama wins his re-election in 2012.  If he hopes to do that, I suggest that he spend a significant amount of his allotted time Tuesday evening explaining to the American public exactly how he plans to relieve them from the suffocating burden of a broken health care delivery system that devours 1 out of every 5 dollars they earn.”

Read John’s Full Piece

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On Gay Rights

Alex Coccia is a student at the University of Notre Dame. He leads the ND ’4 to 5 Movement,’ which advocates for gay rights and a welcoming campus environment for the LGBTQ community.

“President Obama’s administration has achieved important steps for the gay rights movement: the US ended Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; signed the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity; extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees; lifted the HIV Entry Ban effective January 2010; hosted the first LGBT Pride Month Celebration in White House history; signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act; and instructed Human and Health Services to require any hospital receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds to allow LGBT visitation rights, among others.

But our aim should never be for the minimum.  The goal of our nation is “liberty and justice for all.” Four more years is plenty of time for significant progress.  Progress always comes with setbacks; progress is never without struggle.  President Obama must take the stance that Harvey Milk took throughout his career and activism: “It takes no compromising to give people their rights.”

Read Alex’s Full Piece

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On the Role of Government

 Noah Glyn is a senior at Rutgers University, where he majors in economics and history. He is also an intern at National Review.

“Barack Obama is the older guy who grabs countless college students by the elbow and advises, “Enjoy college while you can!” He winks and continues, “Once you get out, you’ll have real responsibilities.”  Except it goes beyond college. Can’t find a job? No problem–keep your parents’ health insurance until you’re 26. Can’t pay off your student loans? Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it. This philosophy pushes off real responsibilities indefinitely. You know, the boring ones like paying your bills.

You’ll often hear people remark that government spending is unsustainable. It is, but more importantly, it’s unhealthy for society to trust the self-anointed and so-called experts to meddle in our lives. Which brings me back to President Obama. It doesn’t matter which words he chooses for his speech. We have already heard the same speech time and again. Yet people will hear the President’s message, rise up and applaud… again.

Enough.”

Read Noah’s Full Piece

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On Political Polarization

Michelle Anjirbag is a senior at the University of Connecticut, as well as a member of the Editorial Board for “The Daily Campus.”

“I am a graduating senior pursuing a career in higher education.  In May, I will either prepare to enter the real world or graduate school knowing that there is a good chance that even the Ph.D. I’m chasing won’t save me from my college loans, and that many milestones that are taken for granted as a part of the American Dream – whatever that means anymore – may not be attainable.  My generation, and those that follow, are the generations that will most likely postpone things such as homeownership, marriage, and raising a family as we struggle with debt and social issues.

What saddens me most is that there does not seem to be any recourse, because we as a nation have neither strong leadership, nor leaders who are in touch with the way the majority of Americans live their lives.  We have preachers on soapboxes seeing who can scream the loudest.

Obama was elected on the platform of change; if he wants a second term he needs to put forth a succinct plan on how he will promote change for the better, as well as how he will unite Washington D.C. to work together for the sake of the people who have employed them: the people of the United States of America.”

Read Michelle’s Full Piece

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On Foreign Policy 

Zach Smith is a 2012 Marshall Scholar, and a senior music and political science major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In summer and fall 2010, Zach studied Arabic and international relations in Amman, Jordan.

“Let’s run down the list of this administration’s foreign policy accomplishments: Ending the Iraq War. Defeating a murderous Libyan regime, with leadership from our allies. Ending torture. Beginning the drawdown in Afghanistan. Taking out, without the loss of a single American life, a major leader in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Anwar al-Awlaki. And then there’s that bin Laden guy.

 But the youth aren’t satisfied yet. You see, many of us actually disagree with some of the methods Obama has used. Some of us are angered by promises not kept. And that’s where Obama’s State of the Union, to some young observers, requires more than just the same story of the past three years.

Frankly, America’s youth aren’t collectively sure what they want from our president on foreign policy. For now, we’re all ears.”

Read Zach’s Full Piece

NextGen Journal NextGen Journal is the website for the ‘next generation,' run by a nationwide team of college students.

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