Sunday, August 5, 2007

Howard Dean on young people and the future

The last part of Howard Dean's keynote address.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

I want to close by talking about young people. I was in Dallas about two, three months ago, and there's a gentleman down there by the name of Reverend Freddie Haines who runs a big megachurch down in Dallas. And I went down to see him because he does a lot of social good works. And we're actually now in the business of reaching out to all kinds of people, and we reach out to Evangelical Christians. Why do we reach out to Evangelical Christians? Because there is a generational change going on.

There's an Evangelical preacher in Los Angeles by the name of Rick Warren. He wrote a book called The Purpose-Driven Life, some of you may have read it. He doesn't have his Sunday services conducted by preaching hate and beating up on gay people and women. They talk about Darfur. They talk about the environment, they talk about poverty--things that are actually in the Bible. And that is our commonality with the Evangelical movement, particularly young people. That sounds like a Democratic message. I know that there are going to be things that we disagree with, with our Evangelical brothers and sisters. But there are going to be some things that we agree with, and the younger generation, Evangelical, not Evangelical, whatever they are, the younger generation expects us to set aside our differences on things we don't agree with, and get to work on the things that we do agree with, so that we can make America a better place.

So, I went down to see Reverend Haines, and we had a good talk about all the things he was doing, and some politics and so forth, and he gave me a poll at the end of the meeting, which I read on the plane to wherever my next stop was. And, I want to tell you about it, because it is enormously hopeful for our country. In 2004, the turnout of young people went up dramatically. And young people across the board voted for John Kerry 56% and George Bush 44%. It was the only age group that John Kerry won. In 2006, off-year election, the number of young people (18-29) went up 20% from the off-year election in 2002. And they voted 61% Democrat and 39% Republican.

There's some lessons here. The first is, we know that if you vote three times in a row, you're likely to vote for the rest of your life. And the direction you vote in those three times in a row is likely to be the direction you vote for the rest of your life. So every single election has to be about young people. We are paying the price today for not reaching out to young people in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan was running for president. That's how John Roberts ended up as the head of the Supreme Court. Every single election has to be about young people, whether you think they're important today in your particular election or not. Whether they're the swing vote or not. Because if you don't reach out to young people in every single election, you pay the price for that for 60 years, because their pattern is set, and it's very hard to get them back.

So that's the first lesson. The second is something that is really extraordinary. It turns out that in 2004, the turnout went up a lot for young people, as I said. And they voted heavily Democratic, even more so in 2006, when they voted even more Democratic. But here's the most interesting thing that I thought--because it gives me such hope for this next generation. People in my generation, we're kind of confrontational, and young people today aren't so big on confrontation. You know, we were out in the streets, marching with signs, trying to get the extablishment to change America. And they're on the internet getting their congressman to vote for the darn H811, to get the voting machines done, and all kinds of things like that. So they're changing America in a different way--not just confrontationally as we were.

Here's what happened, though, which I thought was really extraordinary. We did reach out, and there was a good campaign aimed at young folks in 2004. White voters under 30 went up 8%. African American voters under 30 went up 15%. Hispanic voters under 30 went up 23%. (Applause.) Now, it gets better. The interesting thing about those number is, the increase in voting turnout is inversely proportional to the registrations of the groups as a whole. Which means that, among young people, something is going on that's very very different than the patterns that you see in our generation. Here's the most interesting part of this statistic. It turns out that the turnout of the young folks across the board for everybody was 53%. That's a very good number for young folks, it's not what 60 year olds turn out--it can get better, but it's a good good number for young people. The most interesting thing is, the number was 53% for everybody--it didn't matter if you were black, white, or brown, the number was 53% in your community.

You see what I'm getting at? How things have changed so much that it doesn't matter any more--you do, of course, African American targeting, and Caucasian and Latino and al that, but, they're one generation. And the marketing that you do is different. There is actually a bunch of white kids running around malls with their pants down to their ankles these days. (Laughter.) The truth of the matter is that the vision that we had for America as we struggled through the civil rights era, uncomfortable with each other but trying to do the right thing, is the vision that our kids have accepted and are moving forward into the next generation with. (Cheers and applause.)

It makes me feel great about the future of America, in those times of agony when we see the corruption and the disrespect for the Constitution of the United States in Washington at the highest level, we can think about those under-30 people. I know that 45 years from now, they'll never elect somebody like that, because they believe in the world that we designed for them, a world where everybody is included, where equality does matter, where equal protection under the law for every single United States citizen matters, where America doesn't torture, and doesn't do extraordinary rendition. Where America will stand up for optimism and hope again. That is the country that we hope to build--it won't be built by us, but it will be built by our children, and we can see it already in their voting patterns. (Applause and cheers.)

So, the only thing I would say to this new generation is something that we all need to understand. I don't want people to become patient--I think impatience is a good thing. But, one of the things about getting to be in the older generation, I remember something my father once told me, which, of course, I resisted mightily when he told it to me, but now I'm about the age he was when he told me, so I'm gonna say it, and I believe it now. (Laughter.) He looked at me one time and he said, "You know, I have one advantage over you: I can look backwards as well as forwards."

When I was a freshman in college in 1968, Martin Luther King was killed, and Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. And I remember very much exactly where I was that day, and exactly what that was like. Now, these young folks under 30, they learn about Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and John Lewis and folks like that--they learn about that in history books, but they didn't live it the way people in my generation lived it. They see it as a moment in history--it's history to them.

What I say to young folks is this: you need to remember that Martin Luther King was not just an ideal that we all worked towards in terms of inclusion and treating people properly. That he was a human being. It was 13 years between the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the signing of the Civil Rights Bill. Thirteen years! Not every day was a good day for Dr. King and his folks during those thirteen years. There were a lot of times that he and his folks had to get up and dust themselves off and go out and do something else that was really tough. And not all of them survived that.

And so what I say to all Americans, but particularly young people, is that this is not a one day or one election struggle. This is something we have to do every single day for the rest of our lives. (Cheers and applause.) Every single day for the rest of our lives. And when we get knocked down, we're going to stand up again for the core principles of America. Because America was knocked down by the far right wing of the Republican party in the last 8 years, and by God we're going to get up, and we're going to recover, and stand up for what we used to stand up for. We are going to regain the moral leadership that made America a great country, and we are going to live again in America, and stand up, and lead the world to the Promised Land. Thank you very much.