Youth Issues Take Back Seat at DNC

News & Politics

Children's issues just aren't what they used to be. Education, health care, and safe neighborhoods won't be the delegates' focus at this week's Democratic National Convention. Instead, national security and foreign policy will be the Democrats' top priorities – and some politicians are arguing that these are "the new children's issues."

"These are things that affect all Americans, including children," said Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind. "Any time we are at war and any time we have had thousands of innocent civilians killed, as we did on September 11, that is going to be a major focus for the country.'

The Democrats' new platform reveals the sweeping change. Education, for instance, is not mentioned in 37-page platform committee report until page 22. By contrast, the first third of the 2000 Democratic platform was focused entirely on education.

But some Democrats believe that their party's priorities need to remain focused on America's youth. "The greatest concern is not about terrorism, is not about national security," said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. "People are also concerned about the well being of our young people, the well being of our children."

Democratic Presidential candidate Rev. Al Sharpton also challenged his party to advocate for these issues more powerfully.

"I think [children's issues] have been pushed further and further to the back," he said. 'Any civilized society has to push its children and the care of its children out front."

A prominent children's researcher also believes that these issues need to remain a top priority. Tony Cipollone, vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said he believes that, while children's well-being has improved over the past 12 years, if "we don't look at those issues explicitly, it's going to be tough to maintain progress."

Kids interviewed in New York, Indiana and Michigan said they were still struggling with education and healthcare problems.

Richard Hooker, 15, a student at the Bronx School of Science, said his classes have become extremely crowded since the No Child Left Behind Act took effect. "Every classroom has about 30 students," he added. "Some have even 40 and Music Appreciation has 50."

Some kids in Indianapolis said even gas prices were affecting their lives. "One time [my mom] was running out of gas and she had to get money from our college savings," said Fernando Carbajal, 11. Fifteen-year old Andrea Phillips agreed. She said that gas prices were so high that her older brother was now charging her for rides.

But such problems aren't being addressed by delegates las they have been at conventions past. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-NY, for instance, who introduced her husband, Bill Clinton, Monday night, used her 1996 convention speech to promote education and children's health issues. She spoke about reducing college costs and providing health insurance for kids. At the time, these issues appealed to American voters, who were in the midst of a strengthening economy. Despite the Oklahoma City bombing and a commitment of 20,000 American soldiers to the crisis in Bosnia, Democrats remained focused on family issues.

Four years later, Vice President Al Gore built his 2000 Democratic platform around similar goals: improving education, lowering college costs, ensuring that children had adequate health care and reducing crime in neighborhoods.

Leading up to the 2000 elections, the economy was still strong, the Dow had just broken 10,000 for the first time and the nation was running a surplus instead of a deficit. International matters were not of immediate concern. Instead, the nation had been rattled by domestic issues, especially the proposed impeachment of President Clinton and the shootings at Columbine High School, which had been preceded by five other school shootings. Kids were suddenly seen in a different light, with many schools hiring police, instituting weapons checks and scrutinizing every offhanded comment. "When a child can't go to school without fearing guns and violence – that is a child left behind,' said Mrs. Clinton to the Democratic Party at the 2000 convention.

In 2004, the country faces a variety of issues, many of them born out of the response to Sept. 11: the war on terror, the war in Iraq, the faltering economy's recovery and continually rising gas prices. Unlike Mrs. Clinton's speeches in 1996 and 2000, this year's didn't address children's issues with the same sense of urgency. Instead, she focused on affordable health care for all and a more secure America.

Senator Bayh, on the other hand, believes that a balance between national security and domestic issues is imperative.

"You can't just choose one or the other,' he said. "If you're not careful, national security issues, as important as they are, might overshadow or crowd out other issues."

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