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Mobilizing the Young: an Urgent Memo

TO: Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) of Nebraska

YOUR Entitlements Commission may be history, but remember that your program belongs to the 21st century.

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No doubt it stings when the AARP, the AFL-CIO, and the NAACP each condemn your plan for its supposed decimation of their special interest constituents. Perhaps even worse, the leaders of both political parties have hung you out to dry. In large part these groups represent the all-too-prevalent ``let's bury our heads in the sand'' mind-set of American politics. You must counter their influence by seizing the future, for that's where your friends are.

Young people are your best untapped allies in what is turning out to be an increasingly high-stakes conflict for the fiscal future of our country. To garner vital ``twentysomething'' support from those who will end up making many of the hard choices, you must explain to America's youths the astronomical costs of remaining generationally silent on entitlements. Without taking this necessary step, the larger entitlements-reform war will be lost.

You must transcend elder, labor, and minority special interests and appeal to so-called Generation X. Forget the technical talk on ``Meet The Press'' and C-SPAN. Discover ``Politically Incorrect'' and Greg Kinnear - that's where the young are.

You must get onto MTV, David Letterman, college campuses, and on-line forums. You must barrage the youth print media, from Mademoiselle to Rolling Stone, and begin penetrating the collective youth mind. Perhaps public service announcements would help. Your staff includes a contingent of twentysomethings who know what's ``in'' and how to promote you to TV producers and magazine editors. They should start immediately.

Once on air, on line, and in print, you must lead and teach, aggressively and unrelentingly. Pull out the charts and show the numbers. The no-frills Ross Perot technique makes sense, and we will listen. For a generation that thinks it's nearly twice as likely to see a UFO as a Social Security check, you have an obligation to educate this alienated electorate.

SHOW us the link between the $4.7 trillion debt and the entitlement programs that help fuel it. Explain how our inability to find a decent job is tied to the hundreds of billions of dollars spent annually on national debt interest payments. Tell us what FICA stands for and why it extracts thousands of dollars each year from our paychecks. Demonstrate how demographic trends will exhaust the Social Security Trust Fund before we retire. Convey how low voting patterns feed the status quo.

None of this is a mystery to you. But it remains a mystery to many young people who've never learned the basics of governmental fiscal responsibility.

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As the nation focuses on a balanced budget amendment, social studies teachers across the country will be highlighting this topic in their classes. Wouldn't America benefit if students understood not only how our Constitution is amended, but what types of choices our country faces in order to balance the budget - and how your plan advances that mission?

You should be candid about your plan. Though it makes great headway toward budgetary sanity, your plan nevertheless allows annual deficits to stand at 2.3 percent of gross domestic product 35 years from now. This means that in 2030, the deficit for that year alone would total $1.09 trillion dollars - still a long way from a balanced budget but better than current forecasts. You must highlight how deeper cuts will balance the budget, and what other government programs must be sacrificed to achieve this end.

Demonstrate how your plan benefits the young, especially through your 1.5 percent Social Security tax cut that must be invested in a private retirement account. This inventive component achieves two important goals. It helps lift the disproportionate burden young people shoulder by financing annual deficits with the Social Security Trust Fund. And it redirects from Uncle Sam back to us a small measure of control of our retirement finances and prods us to save even more.

Finally, persuade others to take up the mantle. President Clinton, Sen. Bob Dole, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich must appeal honestly to the young people who are their long-term constituents (think ``lifetime customers''), rather than pandering to the inflexible seniors lobby that refuses to acknowledge that a problem exists.

By 1998, Americans born between 1961 and 1981 will be the largest potential voting bloc. We know that the future will not take care of itself, and that we must plan for the future today. Using fiscal responsibility as a rallying cry could coalesce a generation. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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