Let’s get two things out of the way first.
1) I don’t think Ann Coulter is an evil, racist daughter of Satan the way that the media portrays her, but I do have to admit that she strikes the wrong chord with me when it comes to tone. She does it on purpose, because she’s filling a void in conservative thought – the left is full of angry, outrageous folks who don’t care who they offend, but by their nature, most conservatives are more timid and polite. As such, Ms. Coulter gets a lot of attention…it’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion to people like me who would prefer a less antagonistic face be speaking for our cause and it’s cathartic for people like my sister who are mad enough about how we’ve been treated by popular culture to have lost any desire to reconcile with the left.
2) Even though her sharp tongue gets her attention, I nonetheless wish she would be play ball a little more, because she has real ideas, many of which are good, and they get lost. She reminds me of the reputation I have in baseball circles – the internet is a dangerous place and it leads to people like me occasionally getting themselves in trouble because it’s hard to infer the right tone from the words chosen and I’m not always the best at choosing my words in the heat of debate. Time after time, I’m told that I have a lot to contribute to a baseball discussion, but it’s not worth it to listen, because I don’t take the right tone to make the exercise pleasing. I think Coulter would reach more moderates and get more done if she made the exercise of reading her well-researched works more pleasing to people like me who aren’t looking for a fight.
I would, however, like to call attention to one of her big talking points at this year’s CPAC. She’s been talking about it for some time, but it seems to be leading the way this year on her agenda. She wants the legal voting age raised. And so do I.
And no…it’s not because the young crowd tends to vote against me. It’s because I remember what I was like at 18. And I don’t think the 18 year old me should be deciding American policy. Here are a few indisputable facts:
1) When the Constitution was written, 18 year old men (the original voting class) were considerably more world-weary than they are today. Children were schooled until they were about 14 (primary schools)…the rich ones went to “college” – which was nothing like the babysitting service that a modern institution represents…it was a place of religious and philosophical learning geared toward preparing men of privilege for lives as public servants (either in religious orders, or as lawyers, lawmakers, and “doctors”) – and the poor ones became apprentices and learned trades.
By age 18, you had a career. You were probably either married or about to be married. Most of you had kids. Most of you had a home that you built YOURSELVES! Most of you had been seriously ill at some point in your lives. And the decisions most of you had a chance to make in even this bastion of freedom were very limited by social status and economic means. And I’m not just talking about the poor…rich men had their whole lives planned for them in advance and accepted this without question. What learning was left for an 18 year old? Apart from experiential learning about marriage and child rearing, and perhaps some maturing when it comes to faith and philosophy, not much. Certainly, children used to be taught civics from a young age and citizenship from the first time they could read.
2) As life expectancy has expanded and our choices have multiplied under this great nation’s loving wing, generations of Americans have grown up expecting more protection, more time to grow up, and more latitude when mistakes are made. Put the average 18 year old kid today – with their facebook pages and twitter accounts and technology simply handed to them to make their lives easier – on the streets…and they’ll die. Quickly. No one, today, knows how to make a fire or build a house or sew their own clothes or cook a meal that doesn’t require a microwave. It’s actually quite frightening to imagine this country thrown into chaos by some natural disaster that cripples our power grids. I half expect gangs of 18 year old liberal college students to be roaming the streets killing the elderly for food. Especially those most ardently opposed to every modern war. 🙂
3) We aren’t teaching citizenship either. Recent polls have suggested, among other things, that the average college student does not know who the Speaker of the House is, who the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is, or the significance of the President’s cabinet. The vote is boiled down to a few motivating issues…droves of children flood the ballot box now voting for candidates based on a couple of TV ads, some nice slogans and who looks cutest during the debate. How can this group be expected to vote any other way…they do it because NO ONE IS TEACHING THEM about how this government is supposed to work.
I believe the answer to this problem is more complex than simply raising the voting age, but that would be a good place to start. The fact is, 18 isn’t adult anymore…most parents recognize this. That is why we raised the drinking age, why some states want to raise the driving age, why we now require colleges and universities to provide all manner of free protections to take care of our nascent young adults while they FINALLY begin to learn about life. The first cure for blind idealism and citizenship ignorance is life. The longer you live, the more you know about what you need from your government to make your life livable. As our society evolves, we must be prepared to evolve with it. We’ve gotten younger as a people (per year lived)…we are decadent (and that’s a great thing…it means we can afford to be decadent) and we know NOTHING about life by the time we leave home. That’s why they call my generation the “boomerang” kids. Because invariable, most of us wind up screwing it all up and having to come home for a while. In 1811, if a kid tried to return home – unless it was to join their father’s business – he’d have encountered ZERO tolerance for excuses…and after a meal and a good night’s rest, he’d have been sent on his way. But this is 2011 and our children are young until they’re married and have children of their own (and sometimes not even then to they grow up)…and the average age of marriage, first child, and first full time job continue to increase.
I think 26 is the MINIMUM we should require…and perhaps even that is too young.