The Arizona Desert Lamp

Circuses and Bread, Block Parties and Free Gear

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 27 September 2008

Like John McCain’s preemptive declaration of debate victory, ASUA is probably already crowing about the “grand success” of last night’s Voter Block Party. And, as far as block parties go, it was well-done, full of fun concerts and X-Box exhibits and, bizarrely, a swing-dancing floor.

Yet as far as fostering a healthy republic and encouraging responsible voting, it has failed miserably. For as any serious defender of democracy would agree (and I am certainly am not one of those), voters must be educated in order to ensure the health of the state — as Thomas Jefferson put it, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

ASUA ostensibly agrees with this concept; in fact, the motto of the campaign is, “Registration. Education. Mobilization.” Yet at the block party, amidst armies of registering volunteers and games of Guitar Hero, “voter education” was reduced to five pithy (but brightly colored!) 2″ square cards. Well, at least these cards will contain useful, even-handed tidbits of information. . . right?

Barack Obama is 6′ 1″. He was born in Honolulu Hawaii [sic], lived in Indonesia for a few years as a child, and his father was from Kenya. Barack went by the name ‘Barry‘ throughout high school and college. He was the first African American President of the Harvard Law Review. Obama is left-handed, drives a Ford Escape Hybrid, and loves basketball and poker.

Here’s the card on McCain:

John McCain is 5’7″. Due to his military background, he attended over 20 different schools as a child. McCain was a varsity wrestler, earning the nicknames “Punk” and “McNasty” due to his aggressive disposition. He has an adopted daughter from India, and he was born in Panama. McCain also loves the Swedish pop sensation ABBA [Ed: are you even allowed to refer to ABBA as a “pop sensation” thirty years after the fact? This sounds like it was lifted from the back cover of their ‘Greatest Hits’ album].

Here are the factors that ASUA-PIRG-UAVOTES have decided are important issues for student voters to know:

-Height (see Randy Newman for the implications on this one)


-Childhood Homes



-Favorite music groups

And here what the coalition has decided are irrelevant issues for student voters:

-Foreign policy

-Energy position

-Education policy

-Political party membership

-Voting record

-Political philosophy


Even with this People Magazine style voter information, PIRG still managed to slant their view of the candidates. “McNasty’s. . . aggressive disposition?”  Obama’s über-hip hybrid? Somehow the cards manage to discuss Obama’s Harvard Review, but fail to mention McCain’s imprisonment in Vietnam? Some may argue that facts are facts (although Wikipedia has nothing on McCain’s purported high school nickname), but any half-educated person knows that the selection of facts are just as important — what is not said is just as important as what is. As PIRG et al have demonstrated, it’s entirely possible to skew a (meaningless) debate using entirely truthful statements.

The other three cards were devoted towards us — your voting group, one might say. First, though, who are we?

Our generation is commonly referred to as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y. We are the most diverse generation in history.
Millennials will be nearly 45 MILLION strong in 2008.
By 2015, this generation will make up 1/3 of the electorate.

It’s hard to say exactly what this is supposed to signify. It seems, however, to follow in a trend of identity politics building (this will become apparent by the final info-card) — vote not as an individual, but as a Millennial. Um, no thanks.

Furthermore, it seems to ultimately be wrapped in a paradox. If we are in fact about to become a huge voting coalition, and WE ARE MILLENNIALS (in the same way, I suppose, that WE ARE ZONAZOO), then why bother registering? Since there are so many of us, and we seemingly represent one voice, why not let the other 45 million go ahead and vote for me?

Also, as far the uncited “most diverse generation” claim is concerned, it’d be interesting to see how the authors of this card square up with these two interesting statistics:

According to the three surveys, 18-29 year olds are now relatively less willing to support a black candidate than voters from other age groups.  While resistance to supporting a black candidate has dropped in every other age group since February, and overall stands at just 8%, it remains basically unchanged among the youngest voters.

. . .

In another odd result that pairs up with the surprisingly greater resistance to a black candidate for President among 18-29 year olds that I noted before, 15% of 18-29 year olds are unwilling to vote for a woman for President, which is a higher percentage than any other age group, including 65+.  Whether this is a backlash against enforced diversity and the like, I don’t know, but it is another one of these curious examples of a small but significant group of young voters being more forthright in their opposition to women and minority candidates.

Next card, in Tangerine Orange:

Over 6.5 million young voters participated in the primary contests or caucuses this year; and increase of 103% over 2004. The 2004 elections marked the largest increase in young voter turnout since 1972.
This generation volunteers in record numbers. They possess strong values and political opinions and connect volunteerism  to social activism. AND THEY WILL VOTE IF ASKED.

Since these cards are being handed out to students at a UA VOTES Block Party, it seems quite redundant to tell them that, yes, they are willing to vote. As far as bias goes, it’s worth noting the catch phrase “social activism”, a long-time favorite of the Left.

As a side question, has anyone bothered to compare the number of young voters to the total number of 18-25 year olds? It seems that the peaks in young voter turnout simply coincide with larger generations (the Boomers in ’72, and Gen Y (or the Echo Boom) in ’04).

Last card:

In 2000, out of the $3 billion spent on the presidential election, $0 were spent targeting young voters.

In 2004, out the $4 billion spent on the presidential election, $50 million was [sic] spent targeting young voters.

resulting in an 11% increase [sic]

2008… what will you make them spend?

The claim about 2000 seems bizarre as well — would anyone be able to tell me with a straight-face that the campaign spent absolutely nothing at any function targeting young voters? Also, if you went from making $0 a year to making $50 million a year, you wouldn’t describe that as an 11 percent increase in your salary.

However, these are all secondary to the more serious problem; namely, the idea that we should actively be trying to make politicians waste more money on political campaigns. Advocating for certain issues — higher education, “textbook cost reduction”, etc. — is one thing, but simply trying to get them to spend money helps no one; no one, that is, except for the student leaders who get to dole out these funds.

And this, honestly, seems the modus operandi of the entire campaign — make politicians spend money on us! Rather than asking the Big Questions of whether money should be spent at all, or whether there might be higher priorities than textbook costs (say, the entire financial market), the campaign is simply content to start building an identity that must be courted, like any other factional group.

The UA VOTES program has stated that after “blitz week”, ending October 6, that they will engage in voter education until October 24. But do they seriously believe that many of these students will come without the allure of block parties and free concerts? “Education is boring; besides, man, I’m in school already — I got enough shit to read already.”

So honestly, if you plan on voting on the basis of one of these two cards and a few Cartel songs, let me offer a word of advice: Don’t.

Perhaps the whole charade was best summed up by Ed-Hardy-coiffed host of the Crocs Next Step Campus Tour (which, incidentally, is not at all associated with any voting outreach effort). His spiel went something like this:

“We’ll hear from another County Attorney candidate — but first, FREE STUFF”

[Crowd screams; two-minute spiel given]

“Hey, how many of y’all registered to vote?”

[Crowd screams]

“It’s real important that y’all vote. . .it’s a big year. . . but first, FREE STUFF!”

[Crowd screams; hats tossed]

Go vote — FREE STUFF — listen to blah candidates — FREE STUFF! This might not just be a summary of the absurdity of the UA VOTES campaign, but an effective depiction of the pork-barreling democratic process itself.


6 Responses

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  1. dissentofthedeacon said, on 29 September 2008 at 4:32 pm

    An awful charade, and I agree with everything you’ve pointed out here. I would also add that a disturbingly small number of the ASUA volunteers (zero, in fact) I engaged in conversation actually directed me to watch the the debate, which was happening during the party itself. If the goal truly was education, wouldn’t a presumably substantive discussion of policy and issues have been the first thing they’d be trying to make us aware of?

    Instead, as you noted, they were too busy handing out those absurd MTV-style bio-cards (picture both candidates stepping off the ‘Next’ bus, preparing to vie for the electorate’s love, freeze-framed, ‘nickname is McNasty’ and ‘loves basketball’ appearing in bullet points to their left).

  2. […] but the most facile information at the Voter Block Party (you can read all the sordid details here). It was at this event that UA Votes had its most captive audience, a throng of young people […]

  3. […] decrying efforts to get out the vote for this presidential election without focusing on making sure that […]

  4. burnedoutbypirg said, on 31 January 2009 at 5:41 pm

    That’s the thing about PIRG, man. The more people they have buying their game, the better. And if it comes in the form of lots of people coming to fluff events, that’s enough for them.

  5. […] politicians in exchange for the kickback–but I’m sure the Grilled Chicken Caesar Wraps and circuses will be fondly remembered by a few come campaign time, while most of the campus (the same 95-odd […]

  6. […] This year, “a large portion” of that money was spent on UAVotes, the combination prize-a-palooza and voter registration drive that netted 4400 new voters this […]

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