Editorial: Can Today’s Youth Save the World? By BECKY O'MALLEY

Friday June 17, 2005

Today my 3-year-old granddaughter will enjoy what she calls “gradulation.” This is the little party at her home day care center for which the teacher bakes cupcakes to mark the departure of the four oldest children for “real” pre-schools. Even though it’s a small group, only about 10 kids, most of whom are too young to talk much, she’s taking it very seriously, insisting on wearing the elaborate tulle ballerina dress which a cousin gave her to the party. She’s been ready to move on for a long time now. Ever since she was 2 and a half, she’s told people that she was 3, stamping her little foot and furrowing her tiny brow if anyone dared to contradict her. 

To coin a phrase, kids grow up so fast these days. It’s always been that way, really. But the pressure they feel to decide early what they want to do in life has gotten even stronger lately. My granddaughter announces that she wants to be a “princess doctor” when she grows up—in other words both glamorous and professional, a tall order for anyone, but typical of the challenges young women are facing. And athletic to boot—she woke up in the middle of the night recently and told her mother that she was already “the team manager for the princess soccer team,” and she doesn’t even play on a soccer team yet. She is, however, already a princess. 

Since it’s the end of the school year and it’s California, we’ve seen a lot of the first-cousins-once-removed this season. These are the 20-something student offspring of our many first cousins (I had 18) out to see the world. One of them came to Berkeley for her architecture degree, and is now ready to start trying to be a “princess architect.” Another one wants to be an English professor, though he wonders if he can ever make a living at it. A third, the one most interested in saving the world, is starting with a stint working for a Midwestern legislature, and then she’s going on to law school or academia. They’re all concerned about the serious mess this country is in, which is reassuring for those of us who are getting tired of worrying about it as much as we’ve had to. A fine bunch, and we appreciate their help with the job. I hope some of them have a few new ideas, because things look pretty bad at the moment. 

On the national scene, we have now seen conclusive proof, via England, that the Bush administration’s plans to invade Iraq pre-dated the supposed weapons-of-mass-destruction excuse. And what’s worse, as we’ve said many times in this space, we told you so. It’s appalling to think that while hundreds of thousands of sensible people were in the streets shouting fraud, both the national press and the Congress believed (or pretended to believe) that Bush was telling the truth. And then there’s Tom DeLay, lying, cheating and stealing right out in front of everyone, while Congress looks the other way, perhaps fearing that their own peccadilloes will be exposed next. 

Here in California we have Schwarzenegger, who has turned his back on the conventional political process in favor of a populism run amok. He’s raised so much money that he can disdain the time-honored tradition of buying a few legislators to promote his agenda, instead planning to buy a whole election. Just like in the movies, he gets what he wants by stomping on little guys, teachers and nurses. 

And when Howard Dean speaks up about all of this in the mildest possible way, the nervous nellies in his own Democratic party start to quiver with anxiety. They’re shocked to hear that the Republicans are mostly white Christians? We could tell them even worse things Dean might say about Republicans, but unfortunately also about many Democrats.  

The captive U.S. press continues to fiddle away while the country burns. The Hearst daily today ran a couple of letters complaining that its front pages are now devoted to massive photos of hugging gurus, while the disintegration of the nation is a small item in the back pages. It didn’t seem to be possible to dumb down that paper any further, but they’ve managed to do it. The common excuse is that young people are too simple-minded to read a real newspaper, but the young people I’ve been seeing don’t fit that stereotype. It might just be that they’re too smart to read trash. With the Internet, they now have serious choices. 

Will the new generation of young adults be able to straighten out the world? The ones I see might not be a representative sample, but at least they’re planning to try. Good for them, and good luck to them—and to the rest of us. We need their help, because we’ve got things pretty messed up on our own.