A short while ago, the Balkans were in dire circumstances. This geopolitically important region, the area where World War I began, experienced an oppressive dictatorship, civil war, genocide and a late international community response, among other injustices.
Finally, the people of Serbia were given the opportunity to participate in a free general election. They were able to voice their opinions on the government’s organization and operation — or so they believed. Slobodan Milosovic, however, denied his people this privilege by suppressing the results of the election and scheduling a run-off election.
The people decided to take the government by force and throw Milosovic out of office. These actions should provide us with the inspiration to get involved in our political affairs.
Shortly, American citizens, too, will have the opportunity to get involved in their country’s political process. In the upcoming elections, the people of the most powerful nation in the world will be given the honor and opportunity to decide who will lead this country and the rest of the world in the next century. There has not been an election this important in the nation’s history since the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s. Yet, this will probably be the election with the lowest turnout in recorded history.
This disconcerting and saddening thought should weigh deeply on the American public. In this country, there simply does not exist an interest in politics and national or international affairs. Why should a country with such a strong democratic institution and secure civil liberties have such a low level of citizen interest in its political process?
The answer is that the government has pushed the people away. The people feel as if they really do not have any say in the way their government operates. The powerful interest groups and multibillion dollar industries, by buying the necessary access to the levers of powers, really control this country. However, there is hope.
At the beginning of the year, during the Republican primaries, there existed an astonishing amount of interest in politics. Most amazing of all was the involvement of the youth, primarily college students. The figure who captured this nationwide attention was Sen. John McCain with his campaign finance reform agenda, found in the McCain-Finegold Bill.
This bill proposes to reform the manner in which candidates receive their political contributions. If passed, it will put an end to soft money donations, which allow undisclosed and unlimited contribution amounts. Soft money allows wealthy industries or individuals to have a large and dominant voice. If this bill passes, there would be an acceptable maximum contribution from each source, which would have to be declared. This way, the American public would know which organizations and individuals support each candidate.
For the first time in a long while, the American people saw the potential to cause change in the selection of their leaders and to empower themselves by disempowering special interests. The basis for a political revolution was set in place. For the first time in this country’s history, someone dared to challenge the system and had the opportunity to sneak in and take the election away from the mainstream candidates.
By preaching campaign finance reform and inspiring the nation’s youth, including me, McCain created many enemies for himself. Career politicians and important business figures distanced themselves from this radical maverick, who always speaks his mind regardless of popular response and who preaches absurdities that could destroy the very fabric of their way of living. How else would politicians raise money and secure their re-election if it were not for the elite buying access? More importantly, how else would the elite monopolize the voice in the decisions made for the benefit of this country?
America’s youth were inspired and motivated by this man and his personal quest to restructure the government. His actions spurred a desire to rid this country of its cynicism and lack of interest in politics. It became popular to care and take an active interest in politics.
McCain, however, still fights on in the Senate for his great cause. While he has had some success in the Senate passing bills while en route to his ultimate goal, he still has a long road ahead of him.
The candidacy of Vice President Al Gore, although his party and McCain’s stand at odds, offers some hope for McCain’s vision. Gore has vowed to make campaign finance reform a strong and immediate priority in his agenda if elected to office. He will support a major portion, if not all of the McCain-Finegold Bill.
Gov. George W. Bush, however, has not committed anything toward this important legislation. Perhaps Bush’s lack of commitment stems from the fact that the two-party system in which he is entrenched is designed to silence people like McCain and ensure that they pose no threat.
The naive youth, who had the misfortune of believing in and supporting a man in Washington, find that they were right to protect themselves with cynicism. Despite Bush’s refusal to accept the McCain-Finegold Bill, McCain now campaigns heavily for Bush and supports him for the upcoming election. One would think that a maverick such as McCain would ignore party lines and support the man who promises to finish his revolution. By saying he wanted to rid the country of the stranglehold that the powerful elite have on this country, McCain revved up a new generation of voters, and disappointed them. He did this by perpetuating politics as usual.
However, the sadder part of McCain’s absence in the general election is the simultaneous absence of interest in the elections, particularly among young voters. I was proud for a while to belong to a generation that had the hope and desire to make positive changes in its environment. Most importantly, we had an active interest in the world.
Despite this disappointment, there is one lesson to learn from the McCain campaign: One must voice one’s opinions loudly to cause change. Voting is essential, especially in this election.
Next week, the people of this nation will have the same opportunity to participate in their government that their Eastern European counterparts had. In spite of our disappointments, we can set aside our justified cynicism and achieve a similar level of participation, and hopefully trigger the passage of the revolutionary McCain-Finegold Bill.