For Young Obama Voters, Thrill Is Gone

November 06, 2009|By Daniel Bajger

Last year, Barack Obama inspired legions of young people to become politically involved. Hordes of students in high school, college and graduate school knocked on doors and set up Facebook pages to garner support for a candidate who offered a fresh viewpoint, welcomed by our generation. The rallying cries of hope and change banded us together, making it cool to wear Barack Obama T-shirts and order Barack O-Bombs at the bar. But now, a year later, it seems this first foray into the reality of politics has doused the fire of my generation's idealism with a bucket of cold water.

A majority of young voters still support President Obama, but our passion has evaporated. We expected Mr. Obama to march into office in a whirlwind of action like FDR, overhauling the way our government works with great alacrity. Most Americans, but young people in particular, are habituated to expect rapid results. One can hold up an iPhone to the radio and immediately know the name of the song playing, type any question into Google and receive an answer in seconds, and plug in an address into a GPS device to instantly get directions. Naturally, younger Obama supporters expected similar swift action from the man they voted for.

But quick results do not mesh with the realities of politics in modern-day America. This explains why Creigh Deeds lost to Bob McDonnell in Tuesday's race for governor of Virginia. Notably, a massive voting bloc was absent from Virginia polling booths: young people. Fifty percent fewer voters under age 30 participated in the Virginia governor's race than during the 2008 election, according to MSNBC exit polls. Clearly, Mr. Obama's youthful band of Internet-savvy supporters was content to watch this Virginia race from the sidelines.

Today, working to help a Democrat get elected governor of Virginia is unimportant when compared to other pursuits - like finding a job. A recent Department of Labor study revealed that 52.2 percent of those ages 16 to 24 (not including students) are now unemployed. Fewer employers attend on-campus recruiting events, interviews are nearly impossible to come by, the cost of college tuition rises by thousands of dollars every year, and hulking college loans loom over our futures.

Other factors also contribute to this sense of disillusion. For example, a number of former Wall Street insiders serve as Mr. Obama's top economic advisers. Not necessarily a bad thing - but red flags are raised when these well-connected advisers facilitate the soaring profits of investment banks but seemingly do nothing to combat rising unemployment.

Although Mr. Obama has used his identity and personality to improve our standing in the world, his campaign promise of closing Guantanamo Bay by the end of the year seems likely to be unfulfilled. He signed a bill combating gay hate crimes into law, but the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the military remains.

Administration officials entreat us to be patient. But this request rings hollow after comparing the nascent stages of Mr. Obama's presidency with certain historical examples, such as FDR's first year.

FDR essentially passed the bulk of the New Deal within his first 100 days in office. Mr. Obama, on the other hand, has not passed any significant financial regulation to rein in an unfettered Wall Street. The stimulus plan appeared to have little effect on regular Americans. Meanwhile, the middle class continues to shrink on a daily basis. It is difficult to articulate President Obama's vision for the future.

In his inaugural address, Mr. Obama implored us to leave childish things behind. Perhaps one such childish thing was the naive faith in a contemporary leader to effect drastic change. But were our hopes that unreasonable? What were we to expect after watching Mr. Obama deliver such stirring speeches, both here and abroad?

My generation is growing more jaded by the day, recognizing that wholesale change cannot originate in one person - even a transformative leader of the free world. It takes a village, as they say. Right now, Barack Obama appears to be more influential as a symbol than a leader. Many of us cling to the hope that this will change.

Daniel Bajger, a Chevy Chase resident, is a third year law student at Catholic University Law School. His e-mail is daniel.bajg er@gmail.com.

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