Sometimes we take for granted the voting age has always been 18. But no. We talk about the elusive Youth Vote, but in 1950 it was non-existent. There was talk about lowering the voting age to 18, but nothing ever really came of it until 1970 - twenty years after this address to the people of Michigan by Governor G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams. Logic dictated that, if you were could be drafted into the Military and fight a war, you should be able to vote. But that concept was a stretch for some. Many people thought if you lowered the age of voting to 18, you had to lower the age of drinking to 18 as well. Many states did lower the age of drinking to 18, but voting was still a ways off.
G. Mennen Williams: “My proposal to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. This idea has been discussed widely during the last ten years. Many prominent leaders and citizens of both political parties have endorsed it. But no action has ever been taken. I think it is time to submit this very important question to the people. And because it will require a vote of the people at the election next November, I decided to recommend it at this special session of the Legislature.”
It's interesting to consider that now, since the 18 year old vote has been in place for 40 years, most politicians rely so heavily on it. The lower voting age has meant a more progressive leaning anyways. Something about being young and seeing possibilities and having the power of change at your fingertips is intoxicating to those seeking power. But that enthusiasm is sometimes fickle. As was quickly evidenced in 1968 with assassinations, the Vietnam War and the general disillusion with our country's leaders. I remember very vividly the overwhelming Youth movement embracing Robert Kennedy (at that time it was still 21) and how it evaporated within days of his assassination. Rather than maintaining eyes on the prize, there was a massive disconnect, a general apathy that made the Presidency of Richard Nixon possible. Granted, the Democratic Party was in a state of chaos after RFK's death, and it was that chaos coupled with the disconnect that served a shift to the right in 1968 possible.
I'm afraid we're faced with a similar situation now; the very real notion of a disconnect with the Youth Vote. Principles and ideals have changed considerably since 1968, as they were in 1950 . Ironically, during both periods there were wars being waged (three months after this broadcast the Korean War got started) and 18 year olds were fighting them and dying from them. But today I think the disconnect is the loss of optimism that change, any sort of change, is not an instantaneous thing. Perhaps that's the syndrome of youth. Then as now, we saw change as something achieved instantaneously - the snap of a finger, as it were. The constant with Youth, no matter during what period of time in history, is that all things are possible and can happen if you want them to. Cynicism comes along with grey hair and lowered expectations, it seems.
Yes, we have politicians who, in lieu of being in one party, could just as easily be in the opposite party - they are professional and malleable and are devoid of moral fiber. This back-bending urge to be Socratic and "Let us reason together" becomes so much placating to the rants of spoiled children that it almost mocks the concept of leadership and steering the Ship of State anywhere but on the rocks.
The anger of the Youth Vote to "throw everyone out and start over" sounds good, sounds dramatic and has righteous indignation written all over it - but as history has also proven, it throws out numerous babies with the purge of putrid bathwater. We have to realize the problems of our government are deep-seated and go back as far as January 1969. We just assume it's been eight years because, well . . we just don't think back that far.
And where will that Youth Vote be, come this November?
But at least in 1950 they were trying to think ahead.