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The Daily Tar Heel

Politics Never Go Out of Fashion

Believe it or not, fashion does not just exist in a vacuum. Among other things, it serves as a good segue.

In the recent edition of Esquire Magazine, my friend and UNC student, Tate Helms, is photographed at the Democratic National Convention wearing what the caption says is an expensive suit, vest, shirt (a $350 shirt . that's almost 60 of those Carolina Athletic Association UNC T-shirts) and tie.

In the article itself, Tate is portrayed as a youthful "beanpole" pie-in-the-sky idealist, almost out-of-touch, who "hasn't been told" that voting, preparing for law school, etc. doesn't matter.

If you ever talk to him, you would realize this is about as far from the truth as you can get about Tate, who is maybe one of the nicest, most concerned - yet realistic - people you will meet.

That image of Tate does not really fit into the fashionable image of the youth in politics today. Mostly they are out-of-touch; either out-of-touch with the rest of America with Ralph Nader's "Children's Crusade" of a campaign - or out-of-touch and in politics for their own personal gain.

I have even come under fire by this sort of critique. No, I am not talking about my reference in the Carolina "Review" as being shallow.

If you read alternate publications like The News & Observer of Raleigh, you may have noticed an article that mentioned Young Democrat Matt Jones and myself. We were over at N.C. State University handing out information while Rock the Vote was there registering voters. (Their efforts were not especially great, but I equate this to the lack of pictures on the voter registration applications.)

The article commented that I was a "student politico" hellbent on trying to convert people that were not particularly interested in what I had to say.

Was Tate really just a fancy-suit-wearing idealist? Was I really just grasping at straws on N.C. State's campus?

No, I don't think so. And I am not just saying that because of personal honor. I think there are a large number of young people in America who are concerned about politics - and are so concerned about the future that they want to work to make it better.

When the Gore people rolled through the state last week, I got to meet a good number of students who were giving up their life for a year to help out with this campaign. Were these terrible people, intent on self-maximization? I don't think so.

Earlier this week, I was in St. Louis. And it happened to be the day that Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan died in a plane crash. I talked to some of his staff earlier, and they were all dedicated and hardworking individuals.

Later, once the news reports started on television that the governor was dead, I called back and these guys were all in tears.

These people were not crying over politics, polls or policies. They were crying because they had lost a mentor, a boss and a friend. These guys are real people. They breathe, think and interact like the rest of humanity - flaws and emotions included.

I think there is an image - not necessarily a reality - that has been created, almost as an excuse, for apathy of the young in America.

Young people don't vote because, among other reasons, the young people that are involved in politics are "not like them." They are not fashionable - they do not fit the image of who we think we are or what we are like.

None of us want to be the guy who won't stop shaking hands and wearing campaign buttons. Being a student politician is about as fashionable as wearing a pair of Patrick Ewing sneakers with your acid-wash jeans.

Look at the recent Student Congress elections. Brad Matthews won in my district last February, a district with around 1,000 people in it, with only 75 votes. This district had the largest turnout of any district up for election.

In other words, the election brought out roughly 8 percent of the population in Ehringhaus and Craige residence halls. Young people simply aren't voting and presumably don't care.

I am no subscriber to the "Great Man" theory of history. But I think the young people of America need a Great (Wo)Man who will inspire an increased turnout.

Who then?

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Beats me. But it needs to be someone who is a "dark horse," someone whom the guy sitting in his dorm room wearing gym shorts and playing "John Madden '97" on his Sega Genesis (which I just read is actually a metaphor for Corinthians I and II) will want to get out and vote for.

Is this negative impression of young people in politics the only reason why young people don't vote?

Of course not. You would be a ninny to think so.

But I think it is a telling commentary on the difference between the students that vote - and the students that don't.

William McKinney is a sophomore political science and history major from Greenville, S.C. Reach him at

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