WASHINGTON — Washington -- Just like "Wayne's World," the twentysomethings of "Youngbloods" dissect the issues from a basement studio made to look like a college dormitory.
Much like "Crossfire," the insults fly from left to right as the would-be pundits debate the future of the Environmental Protection Agency and the proper role of environmental regulations.
But Wayne and Garth never felt comfortable talking about anything besides Aerosmith, Madonna or the latest supermodel. David Brinkley would never silence George Will with the put-down, "That's an SAT word." Ted Koppel wouldn't broadcast from a set with a lava lamp. And no director would ever tell Eleanor Clift to remove her baseball cap because it's blocking her eyes.
"I'm just so used to being a gangsta and having my hat pulled all the way down," laughs Pikesville native Raquel Whiting, 22, one of the pundits-in-training.
Welcome to "Youngbloods": the Lollapalooza of political moshing, "The McLaughlin Group" in shorts.
"Except we're smarter than those guys," quips Daniel Forrester, 24, an environmental and regulatory consultant and one of the in-house conservatives.
The twentysomething political gabfest airs weekly on National Empowerment Television, a right-leaning cable network that usually carries programs like "Insights With Robert Novak," "Freedom's Challenge" and "American Family."
But because the junior pundits are almost as highly rated as House Speaker Newt Gingrich's NET show, "Youngbloods" will go daily this fall. A casting call on Capitol Hill this summer brought hundreds of wannabe Mike Kinsleys and Pat Buchanans out for a shot at sound-bite stardom.
"So many young people in politics want to be the next George Will or Eleanor Clift because they grew up watching 'The McLaughlin Group,' " says Genevieve Wood, the show's 26-year-old host.
But the Sunday morning political talk shows all look the same: middle-aged journalists pontificating around a bland set, and there's no room for younger voices to be heard.
"People turn on the television and they see old white men talking about politics," says Heather Lamm, a 24-year-old from Denver who works for the Concord Coalition, former Sens. Paul Tsongas and Warren Rudman's anti-deficit group. "Young people aren't even given a chance to voice their opinions."
They also face the Generation X stereotype: that young people don't know or care much about politics anyway.
"For so long we've been seen as a generation of slackers," says Ms. Whiting, who works as a policy analyst for the National Pediatric and Family HIV Resource Center in Washington.
Ms. Whiting, a 1993 graduate of Princeton University, also directs Y-ACT? (Young Alums Changing Tomorrow), a D.C.-based community service group that encourages college graduates to continue volunteer work after graduating.
A fiscal conservative who is liberal on social issues, Ms. Whiting says the rabid Republicans on the show "make me look like a Beatnik." But even though she doesn't always agree with her fellow pundits, she's glad that the show allows the world to see that people in their 20s have a wide range of political ideas.
"What we have to say is very different than what Bob Dole and Bill Clinton have to say," says Ms. Lamm. "It's not that we're against them. It's a unique perspective: a perspective that didn't grow up with Vietnam, that didn't grow up with World War II, that didn't grow up in a time of incredible economic opportunity . . ."
"That's debatable," interrupts Mr. Forrester, not one to let an attack on Reaganomics go unanswered. But the playful off-screen banter is nothing compared to the sharp, fierce exchanges during the show. The participants all work on Capitol Hill, either as press secretaries, Congressional staffers or issue advocates, so their arguments are neatly honed, concisely argued and extremely partisan.
"You liberals don't trust anybody," attacks Tom Fitton, 26, a conservative bomb thrower who works for Accuracy in Media. "Abolishing the EPA would be the best thing for the environment. I have a feeling if we didn't have the EPA, we would find a way to take care of ourselves."
When Ms. Lamm and Michael Evans, the 29-year old director of constituent programs at Youth Service America, suggest that some sort of government regulation might be necessary for clean air and water, Mr. Fitton sneers.
"Scare, scare, scare," he says. "If given the opportunity, these people would regulate how many times we could go to the bathroom."
Later, Mr. Fitton's on the receiving end of a fiery attack from Ms. Lamm when he blasts abortion rights.
"There is just such hypocrisy in that," she says. "You're not going to allow abortions, but you're also not going to tell people about birth control."
Fast and fresh
The Youngbloods attribute their ease with fast-paced pontificating to being raised in a media culture and immersed in politics.
"We grew up with MTV and a movie industry that has such an impact," says Mr. Forrester. "We go back and forth so quickly because we're anxious to get our opinions in. Our attention spans are precisely what we watched growing up."
Of course, as the Youngbloods start to approach 30, there's talk of a "Menudo rule," named after the '80s pop band, which booted members when they hit puberty and their voices changed. The junior pundits would have to retire at 30, or at least apply to the Brinkley show.
That's fine with the current crop of Youngbloods, who know they will have more of a voice by then in public affairs anyway.
"This city is based on ideas and arguments," Mr. Forrester says. "If our generation isn't paying some serious attention right now, God help us in the future."