Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Pricing the priceless: What is your vote worth?

(Originally published 12/1/07)

You are going to be very, very angry in about five minutes.

According to a survey of 3,000 students at New York University last month, 66 percent of those polled said they would trade their right to vote next year for a year’s tuition at the school.

That’s right. For about $35,000, two-thirds of NYU students would give up their right to vote.

Think that’s crazy? Twenty percent would take – get this – an iPod Touch.

I know that’s unbelievable, so here it is again: One in five students would sell his vote for an electronic gadget that retails for $299.

Gather ‘round, children, while I tell the story about the day America died.

How many of you served in the military? Have spouses, brothers, sisters, moms or dads who wore the uniform?

Who among you has nursed the wounds – physical or otherwise – of a soldier returned from battle? Who has stood at the graveside of a loved one, heard the echo of a 21-gun salute and received a folded flag?

When I read about that survey, my first instinct was to gather up a few friends, head to NYU and stage a little campus protest, if you know what I mean.

Shocking. Shameless. Selfish. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe the pure heinousness of the attitudes behind these results.

To their credit, some NYU students were similarly repulsed by the survey’s results. "Is an i-Touch worth a dictatorship? How about one of those PLUS an i-Phone?" asked one student in the Politico’s forum.

I wonder what the men and women of Iraq would say about this survey. I bet their comments could be summed up by one purple-tinged finger.

I wonder what the men at Lexington and Valley Forge, Antietam and Gettysburg, Belleau Wood, Pearl Harbor, Midway, Bataan, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Saigon, Kabul, Fallujah and countless of other battlefields where American blood has been spilled would say.

While researching this story, I read over a history of the struggle in which American women fought for the vote: "One Hundred Years Toward Suffrage." Could $35,000 balance the gritty determination of Stanton, Anthony, Howe and their partners in the struggle – or the alienation, public humiliation and retribution they suffered along the way?

And what about those who led the civil rights movement? Pull up YouTube on your iTouch, NYU students, and hear Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his dream to the quarter-million people who gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on a hot August day in 1963. Listen to that, then ponder your price.

How could the freedoms bought and secured by so many for so much be worth so little in the eyes of so many?

Another contributor to the forum called it "a sign of the times," adding, "The 20-something generation hasn’t really experienced any sort of major global hardship so they’ve gotten complacent. To them the whole world is just a big nationless, cultureless mess of wannabe hipsters sipping $6 lattes at the local coffee shop."

Some observers have sought to blunt the survey: 90 percent of the students who said they would trade their vote also considered voting "very important" or "somewhat important," they said, and although fully half of the students surveyed said they would give up their right to vote forever, it would take $1 million.

I can see them now: "That’s a lot of money, even with the weak dollar," they nod approvingly.

John Gage was right: Signal you’re for sale, and the only remaining question is your price.

Apparently, the price of freedom isn’t what it used to be – and that’s an insult of the highest order to those who defend it.