As I stood in the long line for the Dean speech a few weeks ago, I was perplexed. Let me describe what I saw. To the right was a crowd of boisterous college Republicans who were so energetic you couldn’t tell whether they were criticizing Dean, supporting Bush or just taunting the Democrats waiting for admittance. The Democrats’ response? Those in line put on as many Dean stickers as possible as if it would work as a talisman against the lively group in front of the news cameras. In that moment, I thought – wow, no wonder the Democrats’ party mascot is a donkey. Sometimes, Democrats come across as a pack of stubborn beasts of burden who can only respond “hee-haw” because political identities are being challenged and feelings hurt. With tails between legs, a half-hearted “hee-haw” is made about 16 words in the state of the union, or how many bad toys Saddam was playing with, or about Karl Rove or Halliburton. The Democratic party finds itself in a vicious circle of sound bites, latching criticisms of Bush to whatever issue has appeal for the week. On college campuses across the nation, students debate which of the presidential candidates is “viable” or “electable” or “charismatic” enough to beat Bush. I will be honest with you: Bush will win reelection if efforts aren’t placed on defeating Bush by concentrating on his shortcomings on the domestic front. So, what’s happening in our backyard? Let’s recall one of Bush’s convenient campaign slogans: “compassionate conservatism.” Voters are beginning to ask themselves, where is the compassion? Where is the conservatism?

Compassionate? The most embarrassing blemish on our political landscape is the tragedy that 16 percent of American children are left uninsured. Whether you call yourself conservative or liberal, the verdict stands: we continue to leave children behind. We argue over artistic differences like vouchers, for example, while Bush creates unfunded mandates and stumbles from photo-op to photo-op, calling it “No Child Left Behind.” We can all hold hands and agree that it would be pleasant to make the Middle East “safe for democracy” and Iraq a secure, healthier and more democratic society, but the priorities of the United States are suspect when we leave 16 percent of our youth without health insurance or adequate public school systems but can still find the cash to finance our foreign escapades.

Conservative? Not so fast. Big government Republicanism has been at the helm of a 12 percent increase in domestic discretionary spending over the past year. The $1.8 trillion budget inherited from the Clinton years has morphed into a whopping $2.2 trillion under Bush. The deficit is projected to reach $500 billion next year, yet the upper echelons of Bush’s economic team still won’t admit that our twin deficits pose a serious problem. We all underestimate the consequence of a monumental tax cut coupled with an increase in the size of the federal budget. But whereas the politically pleasing tax cuts expire in less than 10 years, Bush’s spending will last much longer (e.g. the Medicare prescription-drug bill, the largest entitlement program since the 1960’s). Our generation is going to have to pay for this spending party. Forget “Enron Economics,” Bush is a champion of fiscal profligacy and does not think twice about protectionism (as seen in his exorbitant Farm Bill). Clinton was more fiscally conservative than is the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. This is a fact. Compassionate conservatism? No – Bush and his cronies practice careless conservatism. Small government Republicanism is over.

Most likely in 2004, if you call yourself “liberal” you will vote for the Democratic candidate and if you are a “conservative” you will stand by your man and vote for Bush. But often students don’t fit into these broad categories and would classify themselves according to their feelings on social and fiscal issues. If you happen to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative, where do you stand? Are you a Democrat or a Republican? You are split, like many others on this campus and many other students across America.

But therein lies our immense, underestimated power. Bush and his Democratic challenger will do anything for our generation’s votes. Let’s concentrate less on our political differences and realize that we have so many issues in common: a cleaner environment, more educational opportunities, responsible fiscal policy and a reduction in the debt that we will be paying off. All of these issues have one thing in common: they rally around our future. The current powers that be think that they inherited this world. They are wrong: they are borrowing the world from us. Come on, I’m talking about awakening a generational consciousness here.

Democrat and Republican leaders in this country are at a crossroads. Despite the ostensible differences we see on TV, they have much in common. Not only are they both symbolized by stubborn, change-resistant animals; the donkeys and elephants have all joined hands to spend on our generation’s credit card for their political gain. The recent, politically convenient tax cuts coupled with increases in spending that our parents and grandparents enjoy today will provide acute challenges to our generation’s pocketbook and national priorities. So, in the end, the most important thing our generation can do right now is go to the polls and make sure we get our fair piece of the pie. Let’s make both Democrats and Republicans more responsive to our generation.

Phil Beer is a junior in the School of Foreign Service and can be reached at Beer on Tap appears every other Tuesday.

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