Heffner: A way out of our dysfunctional politics

The Capitol in Washington (Oct. 17, 2013)

The Capitol in Washington (Oct. 17, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

The government shutdown's furloughs and service cuts tortured countless souls across New York and the rest of the country. Had the brinkmanship continued, our country's collective economic future would continue to hang in the balance.

With a potential default lurking if lawmakers and the White House don't agree on spending, the American people cannot afford to keep a problem-ridden Congress that refuses to cooperate. The seemingly never-ending battle in Washington that culminated in a 16-day government shutdown should prompt us to search for a better way forward.

If ever the time were right to imagine a solution to our dysfunctional politics, it is now. For more than a decade, the country has shown its overwhelming distrust of elected officials from both major parties. Congress's unfavorable rating -- this month, the highest ever measured -- underscores a cry for help from citizens.


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Over two presidential and three congressional election cycles, I have written about young people as an increasingly powerful electoral bloc. The millennial generation is the most diverse, politically forward-thinking and digitally savvy demographic in our history, one that has the power to fuel the revival of an effective government that is truly of, for and by the people.

This generation of 20-somethings must accept a call to service. We should embrace leaders who are dedicated to securing the promise of a better America. That demands young political entrepreneurs who are entrenched neither in liberal nor conservative orthodoxy but rather are committed to our destiny as a nation. Let's call it "The Future Party."

Unlike other third-party ventures that have been driven by billionaires or ideological rigidity, this party ideally wouldn't breed the political dogmas we've witnessed during the last decades. In the current environment, where a do-nothing Congress has turned into a do-harm Congress, it is hard to argue against a fresh political attitude.

There are many credible young people who could lead such a movement, including Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, who is working to advance immigration reform. A Future Party could blend the tech innovation and number-crunching competence of the private sector with the passionate public-consciousness of Peace Corps and AmeriCorps alums.

A millennial's disposition is very different from that of the old guard and its allegiance to partisanship. What we have now is a system that's been hijacked -- a money-rigged formula of gerrymandering that appeases the two-party extremes. A new generation is necessary to shape the civic discourse and policies that will preserve essential government programs, like Social Security and Medicare, while charting a path to real deficit reduction and, eventually, a surplus.

It is time for a new age of political consciousness to take root and awaken our core.

Alexander Heffner, a writer and civic educator, was a special correspondent for PBS's "Need to Know," covering the 2012 campaign's college vote.

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