How Young Voters Can Redefine The Third Rail

For far too long in American politics, the issue of entitlement reform has been considered the third rail, it has been thought of as an issue that can’t be touched, and when it is it comes at a great political cost. When President Bush attempted to reform social security in his second term, within months his public disapproval on the issue spiked by 16 points to 64%. When Paul Ryan put forth thoughtful reforms to improve medicare, there were multimillion-dollar ad campaigns depicting him pushing a grandmother off of a cliff. When the American public should be demanding reasoned debate over the issue of the looming entitlement crisis, we have done the opposite. As voters, we have made it the third rail to touch the issue but as responsible citizens, we must reverse course and make it the third rail of American politics not to address the issue, no politician should be entrusted with an elected federal office without putting forward reforms that they would support to make Medicare and Social Security solvent.

The reason that the issue has managed to be framed as it has been for so long is relatively straightforward, older voters show up to the polls in far greater numbers than younger voters and on this issue, our interests are at odds with each other. As medicare inches towards insolvency in 2026 and social security inches towards insolvency in 2034, more and more young people are realizing what’s happening, we’re paying our taxes into the system and are expected to accept far fewer benefits in return because we continue to prop up an inefficient system. The breadth and depth of what needs to be done to social security and medicare are far too great to cover in one editorial but the principle stands that young voters must use our power as voters to change the terms of the debate over entitlement reform.

There are at least some indications that this is something we will have much more power to do in the near future, according to the census, voter turnout among 18 to 29-year-olds jumped from 20% in 2014 to 36% in 2018. This is still far short of the 66% turnout among those 65 and older but significant progress nonetheless. Although if we want our politicians to look out for our future and fix our entitlement programs before we’re expected to shoulder their massive tax burdens with little in return then we must as an organized voting bloc do two things

  1. Show up in large numbers

  2. Make clear that embrace of needed reforms to entitlement programs would sway our votes

Number one is something that has yet to occur in any modern election and even if it did it would be extremely difficult to accomplish both goals simultaneously. One could say that accomplishing both goals at once is next to impossible and they’d likely be right but as young voters and more importantly as Americans that should just make us excited about the challenge that lies ahead and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Generation after generation since the 1930s have put our system of entitlements in the position in which they are today, unsustainable and close to insolvency. Millions upon millions of Americans are set to suffer because of these errors and as young Americans, we must realize the enormity of the task before us in pushing for structural reforms of broken systems and set out to do the necessary but difficult work of pushing our leaders to fix these programs. And if need be, running for office and working to fix them ourselves.

Ethan Suquet is a student at the Florida International University Honors College and is the Treasurer of the FIU College Republicans. Ethan is a guest contributor for the Western Tribune.

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