This past winter, I took my 18-year-old brother, Sean, to vote for the first time. It was the 2008 presidential primary: he voted for Barack Obama, got his first “I voted!” sticker and I took him out for tacos for lunch. It wasn’t the most eventful day of either of our lives, but it’s one I like to look back on. I’m glad that he wanted to vote. I’m glad that he took an interest right away. Not to sound hokey, but I’m proud of him.

We’re hearing again and again about the power of the youth vote in the upcoming election. And for good reason – 1 in 10 voters this November will be first-time voters, and 14.4 million voters have turned 18 since the last presidential election, which is the largest increase since 1980. There are a lot of us this year!

The news media has been following the promise of the magical youth vote since well before Sean and I hit the polls this January, and particularly its ability to push the race toward Obama. Now that we’re counting down the last few weeks to November 4, I’m getting curious to see if we’re really going to live up to the hype; if my brother, my students, my friends and I will really be the ultimate deciders of the next President of the United States. So I went Googling, which is where I found a TIME story which interviewed 21-year-old Matt Adler of Washington University just before Super Tuesday. Matt says,

“What Obama brings to the forefront is the issue of process. It’s not just what gets done but how it gets done; the morality of the process matters. Being honest, open, and inclusive is an issue in itself.”

Matt is a pretty perceptive guy. He picked out eight months ago what a New York Times/CBS News poll just released last week: that voters care about how the candidates are doing things. Specifically, the poll found that voters are turned off by what they perceive as the negative campaign tactics of the McCain/Palin ticket. 6 in 10 voters believed that McCain spent more time attacking Obama than explaining his own policies. Only 39% would have voted for him if the election had been held that day. On the other hand, 6 in 10 believed that Obama spends more time explaining than attacking, and 53% said they would have voted for him. Of voters whose opinions of the candidates had changed in the last few weeks, 70% had a better opinion of Barack Obama. 75% had a worse opinion of John McCain.

I’m sure the Republican party is getting worried. They have 16 days left to try to win this election, and low odds of winning the youth vote over in that time. However, they have more to be concerned about than simply this November. It’s said that young people form their political opinions in reaction to the first politicians they know: our parents’ generation compared Reagan to Carter and leaned Republican. Today, though, young people are associating the GOP with two wars, rising college costs, sinking employment rates and the utter implosion of the U.S. economy. On top of all that, we don’t like their style! If this goes on, they may find that they’ve lost not just an election but an entire generation.

When Bobby Kennedy (a great motivator of the youth vote himself) announced his candidacy for the presidency in 1968, he ended his speech by saying that

“these are not ordinary times and this is not an ordinary election. At stake is not simply the leadership of our party and even our country. It is our right to the moral leadership of this planet.”

There’s Matt’s morality again.

These, too, are not ordinary times, nor is this an ordinary election. The thousands of students AID works with around the country are deeply concerned with America’s moral leadership in the world: what will we as a nation do to address poverty, hunger, and unfair trade? How will we address HIV and AIDS both at home and abroad? Will we take action to protect the environment? Will we engage other nations with diplomacy and respect? Will we live up to the promise that we, the young, know ourselves to have?

This is what I will be considering when I vote this November. So will my friends, my colleagues, my students, and my little brother (as far as I know – he may just be doing this for the tacos). I certainly hope that both candidates will be considering it too.

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