Young adults have seen and taken part in one of the greatest eras of change in modern history. The evolution of computers and the rise of the Internet have democratized knowledge and incentivized innovation. It’s the reason that Apple’s Steve Jobs, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Google’s Larry Page — billionaires who are synonymous with the modern economy — all got their start in a garage. Our limits are no longer strictly defined by money, family connections, or even education, but are instead governed by our imagination and our work ethic.
While the modern information economy is rapidly changing, the federal government is not. President Obama, more than any candidate in recent memory, was adept at harnessing the public’s increasing frustration with a government rooted in corruption and strangled by bureaucracy. Rather than tie his fate to the traditional message of Democrats — that a bigger, stronger government can solve all our social ills — he spoke of hope and change. He promised to make government more agile, less beholden to special interests, and less politically divisive.
The message worked. By a 2-to-1 margin President Obama won the votes of 18- to 29-year-old voters in 2008. And he did it again in 2012 when he won 5 million more votes than Gov. Mitt Romney among voters under the age of 30. Despite Romney holding a 2 million-vote advantage over the president among voters aged 30 and older, Obama’s significant lead with the youth vote was enough to ensure his reelection.
But candidate Obama turned out to be a much different sort of leader than President Obama. The same man who rode into Washington touting hope and change was forced to admit that “the most important lesson” he learned was that “you can’t change Washington from the inside.”
It’s no surprise then that young voters have become increasingly disillusioned with the president we helped to elect. In fact, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that Obama’s support among young Americans now sits at 43 percent, nearly half what it was at the beginning of his presidency.
The reason for the frustration is clear: President Obama and Democrats in Congress got it exactly backwards. They sought to change the government in order to have greater control over the lives of Americans and the direction of the economy when what we needed was to allow an ever-changing economy to guide the course and role of government.
The result is that the economy is jammed in neutral, young adults are putting the brakes on their aspirations and Washington is spinning its wheels. But while our federal government may be stuck, America never is.
What we need are new solutions. To do that we first need to admit that the old way simply isn’t working. The idea that a few guys in D.C. can govern this new, wonderfully complex, incredibly fast, and elegantly diverse modern economy is fatally flawed. It closes down innovation. It limits our choices. And it favors big corporate interests who have the money and the clout to hire lawyers and lobbyists.
This style of government worked well for the old, industrial past. But it simply does not empower the entrepreneurs, innovators and dreamers of tomorrow. We need fewer men in suits trying to plan the economic system in Washington, and more young adults sitting in their garages working on the next big idea. But if we truly want an economy where the best ideas, the best products and the best outcomes are rewarded, shouldn’t we apply the same values to our votes?
If so, our generation’s choice this election season is less about Republican versus Democrat and more about new versus old. It’s about looking to build the future we want, not defaulting to a politician’s vision of what they want for us. And voting for real change in November.
Skot Covert is the national co-chair of the College Republican National Committee. A native of Ozark, Covert is a recent graduate of Arkansas Tech University.