Economists and historians spar daily over the severity of the current recession. By most estimates, it is set to last at least through the first year of President Barack Obama’s term. Some, like Yale’s Robert Shiller, say the crisis represents a systemic shock to our financial structures and demands a response to rival Franklin Roosevelt’s alphabet soup of fiscal and regulatory policies.
We grasp the significance of the historical moment in which we live. We understand that without swift, assertive fiscal action the memories of today’s crisis could shake faith in America’s financial institutions for generations. We are counting on Obama and the Congress he will work with, first to cauterize the bleeding on Wall Street and then to establish infrastructure and regulatory controls to prevent the meltdown of the last 12 months from reoccurring.
But we also ask not to be sold short. On this morning, little more than a year since Obama rode an unprecedented wave of youth support to his first victory in Iowa, we ask that the president-elect reconsider the words of John Maynard Keynes, an economist who laid the foundation for deficit spending.
“In the long run, we’re all dead,” Keynes once quipped.
Not quite: We are the long run.
The free-for-all spending guaranteed by the incoming administration threatens our future. When the $775 billion stimulus package passes and the budget deficit soars into the trillions, ours is the generation that will pay down the tab. When social security and Medicare run aground in the future because politicians today were too concerned with re-election to touch the third rail that is Social Security, ours is the generation that will pay for it. When our children and grandchildren ask how the physical world could have changed so drastically, our is the generation that will have to explain how myopic man allowed the planet to deteriorate around us.
Obama’s next 100 days could determine much of the next 100 years. Those issues he chooses to ignore will become overwhelming by the time today’s college students are in positions to confront them. As the leader of this republic, Obama has an obligation to support every class of citizen — including the 18-25 age demographic. And as the victor of a national political campaign, he owes a debt to those who gave him so much.
Obama’s campaign, built on promises of hope and change, gained more from the labors of young people than any since the failed McGovern insurgency of 1972. And for good reason: Obama inspired us. He inspired us to work and to serve and to believe once more that politics could be something beyond the partisan mudslinging of the last two administrations, the only two we have known.
For many men and women in high school or college today, Obama’s candidacy brought into being a civic consciousness hitherto untapped. Kennedy’s inaugural marked the passing of a generational torch; Obama’s election heralds the same.
We ask that the voices — and, more important, the future concerns — of youth not go ignored during the opening days of this administration. Never have we been so vocal, and never have we had more to lose.