When I was younger, every birthday that arrived was as exciting as the last one, each with a promise of a fresh year filled with new possibilities and new adventures.
Sadly each birthday is slowly becoming less exciting. I am about to turn 18, which means I will be a legal adult. I have been looking forward to becoming an adult since I was a little girl, but now this milestone birthday seems just like every other year.
However, my government high school class reminds me that turning 18 isn't just another birthday. At 18 I get the privilege to vote. Voting has always been a mystery to me, as I assume it has been for most kids growing up with parents who vote in every election. I would always stare at the red 'I VOTED' stickers my parents wore with wonder. What happens to the winner? Who did they vote for? How did they decide on just one person? Now voting doesn't seem as magical, but more like a responsibility.
I've been trying to prepare myself for this new-found responsibility by paying attention to my government teacher and learning all the ins and outs of the political process, but that only gets you so far. The Republican debates haven't really helped, because it seems to me like there is a whole lot of arguing and not a lot of substance.
What has helped me prepare to vote the most is sitting down at the kitchen table with my parents and asking questions. Because my extended family has many different political views, it has been interesting to hear their different opinions on policies. It also has proven to me that Republicans and Democrats actually can get along and be respectful of one another. It happens in my family -- why can't it happen in Washington?
It seems to me, and I am assuming most teenagers, that every time I turn on the TV there's a group of men standing at podiums, talking about wanting to be president. The debates are constantly used as dinner table conversations or class discussions, and broadcast endlessly on the nightly news and even late-night TV. If a candidate says something incorrect or moderately embarrassing, it is a conversation starter for what seems like months. Attack ads skew the facts; things get personal and sometimes just plain mean. There is a lot less civility these days. I doubt our Founding Fathers meant for things to get so ugly in the political arena.
Another thing that bothers me is how the politicians kick around the same topics over and over again. Everyone has something to say, but nothing really ever gets known or solved. To me, it feels like high school drama -- each person thinking they're right and doing anything they can to make the other person look stupid.
While watching the primary debates, I have noticed that each side thinks they are always right and the opposing side is always wrong. No one can be right 100 percent of the time. It's statistically impossible. The candidates argue in ways that make them seem like their side is the only side, and if you choose their competition, you're just plain naive. I wish someone would just once say, "Oh yeah, I forgot about that," or "I'm sorry, I got that wrong." That would make everything a lot less complicated and a lot more civil.
With all of this political talk, you'd think we'd have a new president by next month. In reality, elections for a president won't occur until this fall. It seems a little early to start thinking about a new president when we still have almost a year to go with President Obama.
For student government in high school, elections take about two weeks. Now I realize that might be a little short, but it sure does make things less complicated. Maybe if we shortened our whole presidential process, things wouldn't get so crazy and the candidates would be able to focus more on what they stand for and less on what the other guy stands for. Otherwise, it seems like it's easy to get sick of politics and to feel like you want to be finished with the whole ordeal long before you actually step into the booth to cast your vote. If we shortened the length of the campaigns, maybe you would be more interested and involved when it really matters.
This November I will walk up to the voting box and cast my first vote as an American citizen. I hope that in my lifetime the political environment becomes less contentious. I hope we can all remember that we are Americans living in the greatest country on earth.
If we work together, it can stay that way.
Madison Nielsen is a senior at Layton High School. Email her at email@example.com.