Democrats await Armageddon as youth vote deserts them
All the signs are there. Independents breaking hard for the GOP. Senior voters, a demographic the Democrats usually own, dissatisfied with the health care bill. And the youth vote that was so large in 2008 is unengaged in 2010.
In fact, young people are now feeling “abandoned.” And that has translated into a noticeable lack of enthusiasm on the college campus – a hotbed of Obama and thereby Democratic support:
Now, however, former Obama volunteers nationwide say that they and their former colleagues are less involved and more ambivalent. Experts say the usual midterm effect, in which young voters are especially likely to disengage, has combined with an unexpected distance that has arisen between Mr. Obama and many young constituents. While most of them still view him more favorably than their parents or grandparents do, various polls show that the youthful passion that led to action has not been sustained.
“They were emotionally invested,” said Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. “Somehow that should have been turned into, for Democrats, a revival of progressive policy, and in a neutral way, a revival of democracy starting with young people.”
“So far, it hasn’t happened,” he added.
It isn’t going to happen. It’s the result of writing checks your bank balance can’t cash. It’s the result of taking advantage of the gullibility of youth for political gain by making promises that were unrealistic when they were made. It’s Obama politics. Grand and soaring rhetoric, while pleasing to the emotions, have to be grounded in the real world. Over promising has its downside – being unable to accomplish what you’ve promised to do. Whether or not it is the fault of the politician or the “system”, the politician is the one who made the promises and he’s the one who will be held to account for his lack of accomplishment. Or that’s the way it usually works.
Obama has never had a record on which he had to run (or defend). For the first time in his life he’s compiling one. And it isn’t anything to brag about. It is that record – doing or continuing a lot of things he promised to change as well as not accomplishing things he said he would – that he’ll be forced to defend in 2012.
If the level of engagement this year (and yes, I know mid-terms see the level of engagement drop in comparison to presidential election years) presages the same sort of level in 2012, Mr. Obama may be in trouble. Obviously 2 years is a lifetime in politics. But certain little things indicate that the Obama magic of 2008 just doesn’t work like it once did. A stop in Cleveland to rally the vote attracts only 8,000 to an arena he filled with 16,000 in 2008. Democratic candidates avoiding being linked to him or having him help their campaigns.
Many like to cite Bill Clinton as an example of what Barack Obama will do to survive and thrive if the GOP wins the House. Barack Obama is no Bill Clinton. Clinton was – whether you liked him or not – the best consummate politician of our era, bar none. The “triangulation” strategy allowed him to work with a Republican Congress to get what he wanted – something he learned after being defeated once as Governor in Arkansas. Obama is much more an ideologue. And if anyone could be more self-absorbed (and impressed with himself) than Clinton, it is Obama. Obama has never suffered electoral defeat so he hasn’t learned Clinton’s lesson. That will become obvious in the next 2 years.
The question, of course, is whether he and his campaign staff will have the accomplishments necessary to reengage and reenergize key constituencies such as the youth vote in time for 2012. That depends, in large part, on how Obama retools his approach to working with the GOP. And, to be quite blunt about it, it also depends, in large part, on how the GOP conducts itself as well. My hopes are not very high in either area – which means the political season of the next 2 years ought to be very interesting indeed.