Many people seem to fault young people for a lack of interest in politics. But Danny Goldberg, Nirvana's former manager and the current president of Artemis Records, feels it's the politicians' fault.
Goldberg, who is also a longtime officer and board member of the American Civil Liberties Union, is disgusted that politicians don't do more to appeal to a younger voting demographic, and he addresses the subject in his 2003 book, "Dispatches From the Culture Wars: How the Left Lost Teen Spirit."
"A lot of young people really don't understand why politics matter," Goldberg said. "I don't think you can blame people for not understanding things. You have to really try to make them understand. And to the extent that political rhetoric all sounds like a bunch of lawyers talking legalese, and to the extent that it sounds like it belongs more on CSPAN than MTV, you can't blame young people for tuning out."
A solution, Goldberg said, is to modify the campaign game. Instead of dwelling on issues such as Social Security and taxes, candidates need to touch upon more youth-friendly subjects like the war on drugs or scholarships. And when addressing the young, politicians need to speak in a language they understand.
"There are a lot of young people who can't tell the difference between the parties and the candidates because they express themselves in [a way that is] incoherent to the minds of younger people, whose main language is pop culture and not the language of the op-ed pages of The New York Times," he said.
Often, politicians don't direct their focus toward young voters because they think most young voters don't care — a form of ageism that Goldberg feels is backward. "Older people tend to romanticize their own youth and delegitimatize other generations," he said. "If you're a politician, to actually take those biases and give them the credibility and force of authority is wrong. It alienates younger people and it's morally wrong."
Conversely, Goldberg added, "When Jesse Ventura ran for governor, he had a huge 75 to 80 percent turnout among younger people because he spoke in pop-culture language. I don't agree with his politics, but I admire the fact that he knew how to speak in a language on behalf of his beliefs that motivated participation."
He offered similar praise to former President Clinton. "In 1992, when Clinton first ran, he did much better than previous candidates had done in terms of younger voters because he went on MTV and he played saxophone on the 'The Arsenio Hall Show,' which was a big late-night entertainment show. And he was comfortable in places like McDonald's and wasn't coming across like a snob."
Nevertheless, Goldberg urges young people to try to grasp what politicians are feeding them even when the messages are cryptic or condescending. To ignore politics simply because it's boring or confusing does more harm than good.
"To simply be apathetic is not a good idea in terms of your own self-interest," Goldberg said. "You have to live with the results of elections, whether you participate or not."