The so-called young vote, those under the age of thirty, has been assumed to be the sole province of Barack Obama. That is not hard to understand, as vague promises of “change” play best among those who have little history to match change against and are prone to be discontented with where they are. For far too many, the sense of civic and social responsibility so strongly taught to upcoming generations in the past was replaced with a willful institutional indoctrination that pushed both benign socialization among groups and finding self-fulfillment above all else. While this training may benefit some at twenty years of age, it is poor preparation as time matures a person’s desire for a more serious and meaningful adult life. Might this lack of a sense of something bigger than self be a reason the traditional advancement to marriage, family, and career choice is increasingly delayed by the current generation of young people?
If so, there is an incredible opportunity to appeal to the generation that will soon be making the critical decisions in this country. A lack of clear direction leaves a void where leadership can gather individuals to a traditional American direction. John McCain is in a unique position to describe the duties and responsibilities of being a citizen in America and the pride that comes with honoring her founding principles. In urban areas at a minimum, few of the young have heard this call clearly made. For those seeking a direction and meaning for the rest of their lives, a call to seriousness might just be a siren’s song.
Were I to step into John McCain’s shoes for a moment, here is what I might say: “The opposition points to my age as reason to doubt my ability to effectively be president for all the people. They say because I am older I am ‘out of touch,’ whatever being ‘in touch’ is supposed to really mean. The fact is that I am a member of the oldest generation active in America today. There most likely won’t be another president from my generation. With that said, the real conversation should focus on you, the younger generations, and whether you are prepared to take your place as my generation passes from the scene.
“You see, for all the talk of change and new world conditions, the world has actually not changed much over the centuries when it comes to the great issues of nations and peoples. For thousands of years there have been individuals and nations that have made war, sought empires, attacked and subjugated other countries, and brutalized their fellow man. In my lifetime we remember two world wars fought over domination of Europe and beyond, a so-called cold war with the professed goal of communist Russia to dominate the world, and now a war against the forces of Islamist extremism that, once again, have a stated goal of wiping out the West. Within the last few weeks we have seen the reemergence of the worst tendencies of Russia to use force to dominate its neighbors. Truly, these are only the latest expressions of humankind’s unfortunate tendency to control others by any means possible. Remember this when someone says that, after all these centuries, all that is required for peace is a meeting with ‘him’ to placate the bad actors of the world. That is naïve in the extreme.
“In a few short years, I and others like me will be replaced by the next generation of Americans. Most of you have had the good fortune to grow up in a time of peace and prosperity in this country, with a standard of living never before seen in America, much less the world. You have been spared many things that were part of life both for generations before you in America and for many around the world today. Violence and war have not been part of the current experience, and you have never been compelled or even asked to defend your homeland or fight in its defense in other lands. Indeed, prosperity in this country has spared most of you from concerns about paying your own college tuition, buying your own cars, or supporting families that began to be built at the age of twenty, a very common practice in my time.
“Rather, for most of your life, our institutions have told you the most important thing in your life was you, your fulfillment, self-esteem, and self-image. It was a time of no moral judgment, political correctness, and every manner of living being equal to all others. Even family and children, the mainstay of human continuity for thousands of years, were optional if one merely desired it to be so. Yet all this time, the world, society, and the nature of man really hasn’t changed, only taken a backseat to the good times in America. The time has come to reconcile the way we view life in America to a real and dangerous world. Your country needs you to do this and do it quickly.
“In the cold light of reality, self-esteem, self-fulfillment, and self-identity are not the most important things. Life and liberty, the love of family, freedom, security, and your fellow man are. Very little has been asked of you for the sake of your country and it is good that these gifts were able to be given to you by those who worked hard to make it so. But we are all moving along life’s unstoppable cycle and the time for you to step up and take your place has arrived.
“What does this mean? What am I calling on you to do?
“First, put the fact that you are an American on the highest pedestal you can find. Renew your understanding of what being an American means because you will find much to love there. We, all of us together, of every race, history, economic standing, ability, and age, are brothers and sisters in the freest nation ever to grace this planet. As Americans, we share a common heritage, a common belief of rights to life, liberty, equality, hard work, and enjoyment of the fruits of our efforts. In demanding these American rights for ourselves, and for defending them for all our fellow Americans, we are truly unique in history. Understand what it means to be an American and dedicate yourself to the principles that make her what she is.
“Second, make it your responsibility to be informed of the current events and conditions in the world today. Put down the iPods from time to time and make sure you are aware of events and the people whose intentions are driving them today. The American democracy needs an informed electorate not only at voting time, but so the world will know that the American people are committed and cannot be intimidated and influenced easily. As powerful as the American military is, the most powerful force in the world is the will of the people. We need to make sure that will is clear and deeply committed.
“Third, speak to all these issues among family, friends, and coworkers. Too long we have been told to stifle debate in the interests of not being offensive. Open and free debate is the bedrock of democracy and we need to bring it to the front porch of our homes again.
“Finally, and maybe most importantly, demand that your government at all levels governs according to American principles and in the interest of the American people. We are not the empire builder or the tyrant; acting in our best interests does not make us such. There is no ambiguity in the need for the security of our country, and there should be no hesitation to use whatever means proper to defend her. At home, we live in a time when excessive laws, rules, regulations, approvals, and controls invade every part of our lives, while the great principle of personal freedom suffers. Demand this stop.
“The recognition that America is an exceptional country has been left to founder over the past twenty years or so. America’s critics, both from within and abroad, have arrogantly declared her every fault and misstep as proof that she is not exceptional, not the single most powerful force for freedom and dignity of all peoples. As Americans we are prone to self-criticism. As realists we need to acknowledge that facts and history make America’s faults small by comparison to her contributions. Our pride in being Americans is indeed well founded.
“I am prepared to lead this country in the years ahead, but I have far fewer years ahead of me than I have behind me. I would love to impart to you the love of country that has been so much a part of my life, but I had to come to it in my own way and so do you. You will be next to lead. Your country needs you. Now go get ready.”
John McCain can make this speech. Barack Obama could not.