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A teen guide to the Bush years

New leader gets benefit of the doubt;
promise of unity appeals to youth

January 9, 2001
Web posted at: 3:30 PM EST (2030 GMT)

In this story:

Can Bush be
'a uniter, not a divider'?

'It's the economy, stupid'

What impact will Bush have on teens?

Cooperation may be key


(CNNfyi) -- Bill Clinton, the only president that much of young America has ever known, has already started moving out of the house. Several moving vans stocked with hundreds of boxes have hit the road as have several Washington-bound trucks with the personal items of President-elect George W. Bush and his family.

So what's the new guy bringing in?

Besides a cheerleading megaphone to replace Clinton's saxophone, Bush has promised to bring integrity to the White House and a constructive, unifying approach to Washington. But with a less than decisive mandate after his close win and a Congress as divided as ever, some political pundits say the former Texas governor will have a tough time establishing himself or his policies.

Read the Neglection 2000 report on young adults and the campaign
Teens rate the Bush Cabinet on diversity and ideology

Russ Freyman, 27, director of Neglection 2000, a nonprofit, nonpartisan project examining young voters and the presidency, said young people will give Bush the benefit of the doubt -- for now, and if he sticks to his election pledge to work with Democrats to get things done.

But can he? And, even if he can, will it matter to young Americans?

"Young adults are thinking, 'How is this going to affect my daily life?' " Freyman said. "We've already seen bickering in Washington. It could end up flaring up and causing problems."

Can Bush be 'a uniter, not a divider'?

Young Republicans and Democrats alike agree that the success of Bush's first few years will be determined by whether he can live up to his campaign promise to be "a uniter, not a divider." Bush repeated this sentiment after Gore's concession December 13, when he stressed unity in his first speech as president-elect from the Democrat-controlled House chamber in Texas.

"I'm glad that he ran under that title," said Mark Hanson, 17, president of the North Carolina Teen Democrats. "It's very important that he lives up to that standard."

Whether Bush can meet his own expectations and bring Washington together remains to be seen. Young people's cynicism toward politics may be fueled by the perception that lawmakers care more about personal power and party affiliation than the common good.

Lindsey Ligett, 22, has gauged young people's views as adviser to Hanson's North Carolina Teen Democrats and by observing high school classes as part of her studies at the University of North Carolina Graduate School of Education. Party politics and bickering, she said, will continue to turn off teens to what's happening in Washington -- and, most likely, to Bush as well.

"Young people have become cynical about politics, and I don't see that changing," said Ligett. "Maybe there's some hope."

'It's the economy, stupid'

Hope wasn't in abundance when George W. Bush's father ran for re-election in 1992. Clinton strategist James Carville explained why during the campaign in his resounding catchphrase: "It's the economy, stupid."

What followed in the Clinton years was one of the longest economic booms in American history. Only recently has the economy shown signs of slowing down -- just in time for another Bush to take over as president. How the economy performs, and how Bush handles it, may be the most important issue for teens.

"Jobs and wages," Freyman said, are things young people "are always very concerned about."

"My generation is going to be entering the work force," Hanson added. "If the economy doesn't continue to be prosperous, if it falls into decline, it could be catastrophic to our generation."

People's opinions on how Bush will handle the economy depend largely on their views of his tax cut proposal -- across-the-board income tax cuts of $1.3 trillion by 2010. Republicans say the act will stimulate the economy; Democrats worry it could plunge the nation into a recession.

What impact will Bush have on teens?

But the economy isn't the only thing that may shape teens' lives in the new Bush administration.

The nomination of conservative former U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri as attorney general may lead some, Freyman said, to worry civil right laws will not be adequately enforced. The U.S. Supreme Court, put under the spotlight with its ruling in the 2000 election, should retain a conservative majority under Bush -- which may put the legality of abortions at risk.

"The Supreme Court choices, because of the publicity factor, that's the type of thing that could shape" young people's views of the Bush administration, Freyman said. "They could feel their lives were positively or negatively impacted. There's a gamut of issues that the Supreme Court deals with."

Freyman said his surveys showed young people and Bush agreed on what they felt was the most important issue: education. During the campaign, Bush supported initiatives that would let students use publicly funded vouchers to attend private schools, give local districts more autonomy and, using standardized tests, hold schools more accountable for students' development.

Cooperation may be key

Freyman said he's noticed a positive point regarding Bush's education policy -- namely, a willingness to incorporate other views. He said Bush has already invited all congressmen who "deal with education and other think-tank types to appear in a White House summit on education and lay out a policy."

Sticking to such a cooperative approach, Hanson said, is crucial to Bush's presidency.

"Compromise is the foundation of our country," he said. "You have to study both sides of the problem."

This tact is especially important to young people, Freyman said, given their aversion to "traditional politics" -- the infighting, profiteering and egoism many teens associate with politicians.

"If he starts going to extremes, that's where young people will be turned off," Freyman said. "If he's a uniter, that's where young adults will like him."

Bush discusses defense budget, strategy
January 9, 2001
Bush tells governors that states' rights, education will be priorities
January 6, 2001

White House for Kids

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