On the front page of today’s New York Times was a piece with the header, “Hit by Recession, Young Voters Shed Image as Obama’s Army.” The article starts off with a quote from a 20-year old Latina college grad recollecting the 2008 election as being, “something about Obama saying we needed a change.” Speaking with many young Americans today, especially prospective first time voters, it is clear that the Obama magic has worn thin over 3.5 years of gradual emergence from the recession that still looms large over all of us. Gone is the momentum of the first Obama campaign effort along with its saccharine promises of change and hope that galvanized the youth of a nation. My favorite quote of the Bush years came at a press conference in Nashville, when he famously bungled an old proverb, saying, “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” For many of the youth who bought in to the Obama promise four years ago, not getting fooled again is high on our agenda.
This is not to say that the Obama campaign is going to lose the youth vote or anything. Far from it. If it’s even possible, Mitt Romney’s Judge Smails routine1 makes him even harder for young folk to identify with than Pops McCain. It’s just that if Barack is counting on being carried to victory on the same groundswell of support from the college set he’s been drinking too much of that Axelrod Kool Aid. The truth is that the four horsemen of disinterest, distrust, disappointment and despair have taken their accustomed space on the shoulders of the young and they’re not budging for either candidate. Can you blame us?
Right now, the unemployment rate for 18-19 year olds is almost 3 times the national average of 8.2% and remains untenably high for 20-24 year olds at around 13%. Fewer young men and women are able to pay for exponentially rising costs of college and those that do venture forth into the vast morass of higher education end up with mountains of debt, 3.4% Stafford loan interest rate or not. A report on youth workforce development out of Rutgers University shows that 56% of youth polled who were not enrolled in college expected to be worse off than their parents were, while only 14% believed they would improve upon the previous generation’s standing. It is a terrible thing to see a man or woman resigned to a meaningless, soul-numbing career path, but it is doubly terrible to see it emerge in someone who is still too young to legally buy a drink.
It’s 2012 and Guantanamo is still open for business, we’re still bombing the unholy hell out of Afghanistan, and even more of our civil liberties have been snatched from us. The US tax structure is still whoreing itself out to the monied elite of society, Social Security isn’t going to be around when we’re all 65 (or even 35 for that matter), private insurance companies still call all the shots when it comes to healthcare, and you can be Pulled Over for Looking Latino (POLL) in Arizona. Union membership is at a new low at the same time bargaining rights are being given away like leaflets to a high school band challenge, while the gap in income inequality has gotten worse here than it is in China. What part of this am I supposed to be excited about again?
Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the positive developments of Obama’s first term, like the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the (eventual) support of same-sex marriage, the Affordable Care Act and the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, to name a few. Yet, these still aren’t enough to mitigate the damage and balance the scales. I can’t say with any confidence that we are much better off today than we were in 2008. And the scary thing is that the Obama White House was a drastic improvement over the 8 long years of neoconservative destruction that was the Bush White House. Under Dubya we were hemorrhaging blood and under Obama we’ve merely been losing a steady trickle.
If there’s any way I can best explain why much of my generation is less than enthused about the 2012 election, it is this: The only thing I really want in a President at this point is someone who won’t make it any worse than it already is. That is my “Hope”. I hope and pray that we just stop sliding backwards long enough to grab a hold of something and pull ourselves back into the 21st century where we belong. If Barack and Mitt had half a clue they’d realize that I’m not alone and they’d stop pandering to the “middle class,” whoever the hell that is anymore, and address the reality of American life today. Don’t tell us that you’re going to bring the manufacturing jobs back to Detroit and Youngstown and Gary because you’re not. We know you’re not. Our father’s world and our mother’s world is not our world nor will it ever be. Talk to us about the world we know and not the one we wish it was and maybe we’ll get somewhere.