Summer is the time where we typically sleep in, work on our tans and perhaps fulfill the requirement for summer credits to graduate. The discussion of political issues probably seems pretty uninteresting, but many of the issues in the news today require our attention, as they will directly affect us in the decades to come.
Far from accomplishing any sort of consensus, according to USA Today, President George W. Bush has made some 37 speeches on the subject of Social Security reform since Feb. 1. His message has been largely one of allaying the fears of those about to retire that their benefits will last, while attempting to influence a younger audience that private investment accounts are in their best interest.
It is not hard to understand that the demographic shift caused by Americans living longer has put a strain on our country’s entitlement programs. Exacerbating the problem, politicians constantly mindful of re-election fights often shun difficult decisions about the long-term solvency of programs such as Social Security.
While Social Security reform may seem far removed from campus, it won’t be once we enter the workforce. By some estimates, Social Security funds will be exhausted at the end of 2041. In other words, if you are 20 right now, by the time you reach 56, not that terribly far from retirement, Social Security as we currently know it will be unable to fund 100 percent of scheduled benefits.
This sobering news should be enough to cause you to consider your position as the issue comes before Congress this term.
Another inescapable summer issue for students is the president’s pending Supreme Court nominee. Retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Conner has had a pivotal role on the Court since the early 1980s.
Of particular interest to education, O’Conner wrote the majority decision in a 2003 case upholding the University of Michigan’s admission policy favoring minority applicants to its law school as well as the decision to protect against retaliation those who complain about sexual discrimination under Title IX. Title IX was instituted in 1972 and prohibits sexual discrimination for those educational institutions that receive federal money.
The upcoming nomination of O’Conner’s successor will most likely be highly contentious, with advocacy groups prepared to spend millions of dollars on the fight. With a lifetime appointment and the balance of power of the High Court at stake, future decisions for some time to come will be influenced by the events of the coming months.
Some of this fall’s docket of Supreme Court cases important to students includes a ruling on the Solomon Amendment, which requires that universities grant equal access to military recruiters or lose federal money, and whether the Department of Education can collect defaulted school loans from Social Security benefit checks.
Perhaps a less talked-about issue is the status of our international relations. The pendulum between consensus building with the world and protectionist policies seems tenuous at best.
A good example of this is our relationship with the Chinese. The rise of China as an economic entity in the world will further the question of whether it is a rival, a partner or a little of both. Gaining recent attention is China National Offshore Oil Corporation Ltd.’s $18.5 billion bid for California-based Unocal.
Access to oil will be an increasingly contentious subject, especially between the United States and China as huge oil-consuming nations. The problem is that while we have pushed for open markets with the Chinese, hoping it will foster political and social change, there are many now who argue for U.S. protectionist measures against the Chinese.
So the question is how best to proceed with the Chinese? After all, they are a large financier of our trade deficit, keeping interest rates low so we can spend even more. And heck, we enjoy importing low-cost products from China — just look at the June sales numbers from Wal-Mart. China is a force to be reckoned with both now and well into the future.
Apathy toward political institutions in America or viewing these issues as something you don’t need to worry about will not lessen their influence in your life. Stay informed and take action on how you think our generation should address these issues.
Aaron Hill is a seniormajoring in firstname.lastname@example.org