FIRST, the "experts" labeled ours the "Me Generation."
Superficially, the title seemed to describe us. We seemed unusually self-centered, with an apathy towards politics that bordered on nihilism. Now, these same experts are confounded as to why so many of us support Ronald Reagan.
Commentators have suggested various reasons for this phenomenon. The explanations for our alleged conservatism range from suggestions that we are rebelling against the doom and gloom of the late '70s, to assertions that we are reacting to international events of the past five years: the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, the 1981 suppression of Solidarity in Poland, the implication of the Soviet KGB in the attempted assassination of the Pope in 1982 and the Soviet downing of Korean Air Lines flight 007 in 1983.
At best, these theories only flirt with the real issue behind my generation's support for Reagan: our preoccupation with "realism," as opposed to what used to be called "youthful idealism." Ours is a generation that was forced to face certain facts of life at an earlier age than is usual. We may have grown up too fast in the process.
It's pleasant to think that young people are a dynamic and fresh element of society that questions established norms and infuses new ideas into the minds of older, more complacent generations. Yet, for the first time, the young people of this country are making it clear that they are tired of questioning society, and merely want to be assured of finding a job.
The cause of our preoccupation with the "realities" of life can be found in the environment in which we were raised.
To most of us, the war in Vietnam was like a bad dream we had in our early childhood. We don't remember any of the details, just the feeling that something had gone wrong and our parents didn't want to talk about it. Watergate affected us in a similar manner. We didn't comprehend the causes of the scandal, but we understood all too well that our president was forced to resign in disgrace. The energy crisis hit closer to home. Once again, we didn't understand why there was a shortage of fuel, but knew firsthand, from waiting in lines for gasoline with our mothers, that something was definitely wrong.
These three events, Vietnam, Watergate and the energy crisis, seemed to contradict all we had been taught about America in school. We knew of America's great wars: the Revolution, the Civil War, the two world wars. These were just wars in which we were fighting for democracy; and we were victorious. We knew of George Washington and Honest Abe. And we knew of America the Beautiful, a land with unlimited resources and room for limitless growth, a land where anybody who worked hard enough could become a millionaire.
Yet by the time we were entering college and were trying to decide on a career we were accutely aware of just how much the economy and job market had contracted. We began to realize that our choice of careers had been severely limited; it was out of our control and in the hands of the marketplace.
So where do ideals fit into this upbringing? How does one instill in children a sense of justice when questionable scenes of war are being televised nightly in living color? How does one teach a child to distinguish between right and wrong when our president resigns from office because he can't tell the truth? And where does an "optimistic outlook" towards the future appear in a world of limited resources living under the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction?
A publication that began appearing on the University of Virginia's Law School campus a month ago is indicative of our outlook. It contains articles which, though satirical, are critical of the U.S. legal system -- for example, one piece criticized big law firms for keeping cases in litigation for years rather than trying to resolve them quickly. But what's significant is that the articles are all anonymous; even the publishers don't reveal their identity. The newsletter is called The White Rose, after a similar publication that appeared at the University of Berlin in 1936, when questioning the Hitler establishment meant destroying one's future.
We are critical; but we fear for our futures. The University of Virginia Law School is one of the highest ranked in the nation. Last year, 750 law firms interviewed members of a graduating class of only 250. Graduates look forward to a bright and profitable career in the world of corporate law.
The White Rose provides a forum for the free exchange of ideas and criticisms of the system students are hoping to join. But students feel free to voice their objections only in the context of assured anonymity: "The anonymity provides a mechanism for saying things you usually don't hear without the pressure of being acknowledged," as one contributor commented.
The students who edit and contribute to The White Rose understand all too well the nature of their education; the type of mentality it produces; the type of justice it insures, and most importantly, the amount of potential income at stake.
Our generation does have ideals. As one of the anonymous editors of The White Rose was quoted as saying: "We want to document the different experiences that aren't emphasized (in the classroom) and to expose the (legal) institution for its injustices, humiliations and prejudices." But we also can separate the possible from the impossible.
Yes, Ronald Reagan enjoys strong support from the young (although his opponent actually did somewhat better than the president in an undergraduate straw poll last week). Yes, it seems that we've all jumped on the Madison Avenue bandwagon of Reagan's mythological America. But ours is also the age group that religiously watches "Late Night with David Letterman," a show all of us incipient "yuppies" love for its sarcastic approach to the world.
When we tuned into the recent presidential debates, we were cynically amused at the ineptitude of both presidential candidates. We sat, sipping our beers, chuckling to ourselves at the fact that these two candidates were the "best" our country could produce. And once again, a lot of young people choose the lesser of two evils, and side with the man whom, barring war, we think could provide us with the best opportunity of finding a job: President Ronald Reagan.