May 01, 2005

At the peak of idealism

I was talking to my dad this weekend about politics. He, a staunch non-religious conservative, is for privatization of social security, the war in Iraq and other Bush related initiatives that I despise. I argued my side of the case(s), using my background in political science and armed in readings from Friedman to Machiavelli. Despite this, he consistently put down my arguments by insisting that I was a typical 20 year old college student. I’m a liberal idealist with the hopes and dreams of saving the world but still unexposed to reality.

It was really discouraging hearing this from my own father. I mean, yeah, what he said was at least partially true. I suppose in a lot of ways I’m a liberal idealist. I don’t expect to be able to save the world or anything though. I just see things differently.

The biggest issue we debated was in regard to health care. He insisted that his tax money should not go to pay for poor people’s health care via Medicaid and social security. Since they do not pay into the system, they should not reap the benefits and be afforded the best health care for free. I argued that health care is not something anyone should have to pay for anyway. It is a necessity of life, and everyone should have that right to get necessary health treatment. I’m not going to get into it any farther than that as I’m not writing this to argue that issue.

Anyway, his views were very much oriented around money. They weren’t about what “should be”, they were more of about what “can be”. The government and economy can’t afford to take care of everyone and therefore shouldn’t. And he’s not going to pay any more taxes to do it. It made me realize that he is beyond idealism. At 50, he’s accepted the realities of life, and is a lot less likely to offer some sort of change. At 20, I’m at what Ralph Nader called “the peak of (my) idealism.” I’m all about change. I’m perfectly willing to shake things up and try something new (within reason, of course).

You’ve probably heard the quote “If you’re not liberal by 20, you have no heart. If you’re not conservative by 40 you have no brain.” What happens in those 20 years that changes us in that way? Having not yet lived them, I can’t say from experience. But judging from what I’m seen in other people, a lot happens. We finish our educations, start careers, get married and have kids. I guess when you have all those things, you may not be the happiest guys on earth, but in a lot of ways, you’ve made it. You’ve lived your life the best you could, and you want to believe that that’s the way they’ll be forever. If something changes, what will happen? Will you lose the nest egg you’ve worked your life for? Will your relationships with your wife, children, or anyone else change? I think on that level that it is an issue of social security. Not the government entitlement, but the meaning of the very words themselves- security in society.

At 20, we’ve got nothing to lose by trying new things. Sure we’ve got friends and family, but we don’t have careers, wives or kids that are going to be damaged by our mistakes. If there’s a fork in the road, we can take into either direction without second thought. I’m enjoying my viewpoint at this age, and I think it’s important that we all believe what we want to believe. We have the rest of our lives to realize (or simply accept) what’s possible and what’s not.

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