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Column: Our Generation's Unnecessary Fatalism

This story was written by Julia Harte, Daily Pennsylvanian

He's like a man determined to prove his point in an argument at any cost.

Over the past eight years, President Bush has finally wrought the sort of damage that his fellow right-wingers long warned would come from federal government and its attendant regulations.

You've heard the big counts against Bush before: a mismanaged war, the degradation of traditional rights and laws, promoting a partisan agenda in our courts and schools, and an antisocial tendency to take from the poor and give to the rich.

What I hadn't realized until recently was how well he's sold his underlying philosophy of government.

To be sure, he hasn't converted masses to his own radical sect of the Republican Party. But many liberal and moderate people do appear to have internalized a characteristically right-wing despair over the good intentions and abilities of our central government -- a fear of so-called "big government."

I've found this despair to be especially alarming and pronounced in our own generation.

Kacie Kocher, a senior at Wellesley College majoring in political science and Middle Eastern studies, has chosen not to register with any political party. She is especially concerned that American students are not receiving the education they need to compete in the global economy.

"There doesn't seem to be a way, or an effort, to fix this," she said.

In her home state of Texas, according to Kocher, "most high school graduates I've known have trouble reading a book or passing tests that any seventh grader should be able to pass."

Bush's infamous No Child Left Behind Act has only aggravated this problem, in Kocher's opinion, discouraging learning for its own sake and forcing teachers to follow a narrower curriculum.

University of Pennsylvaniajunior Jessica Yu is an English major from Hong Kong who deplores the arrogant and hostile reputation Bush has made for the United States around the world. She thinks the country is missing out on diplomatic and economic opportunities that will produce the world hegemons of the future.

"Other countries are stepping up to the plate where the United States isn't," Yu said. "A lot of international relationships and partnerships are being formed right now, and we just aren't part -- or aware -- of them."

Talking to peers from many different backgrounds, I hear a dizzying spectrum of other worries: the social security fund will run out before we retire, the government is slowly stripping away every last one of our freedoms, we'll never be able to afford homes or healthcare or good schools.

Some of these fears might be assuaged by opening a history textbook.

Our current economic woes, for instance, still pale in comparison to the slump of the rampantly unsupervised market economy in the 1930s -- thanks, almost entirely, to Roosevelt's New Deal and to successive regulations that Congress placed on Wall Street and the banks.

The war on terror hasn't even begun to incite panic and social collapse on the scale of the Red Scare during the Cold War. Thousands of professionals were forced out of work because of rumored Communist sympathies, or simply because they would not sign a loyalty oath.

Healthcare, education, homelessness, air and water -- although undeniably worse for the past eight years, these sectors of the country are still in tremendously better shape than they were just a generation ago.

And in nearly each case, our federal government performed the actual rehabilitation.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama appears to recognize this; his energetic, optimistic approach to politics sugests a man eager to take back the wheel of federal government and use it for the good of the whole country.

If there is something profoundly unprecedented about the problems this country faces today, it is -- as Kocher and Yu suggest -- their setting: a uniquely integrated and collective international sphere.

And if our generation wants to succeed in that world, here's a tip: fatalism won't translate well.

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