The Obama legacy

The New York Times reports: For all the talk about the movement that elected Mr. Obama, the more notable movement of Obama supporters has been away from politics. It appears that few of the young people who voted for him, and even fewer Obama campaign and administration operatives, have decided to run for office. Far more have joined the high-paid consultant ranks.

Unlike John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, who inspired virtual legislatures of politicians and became generational touchstones, Mr. Obama has so far had little such influence. That is all the more remarkable considering he came to office tapping into spirit of volunteerism and community service that pollsters say is widespread and intense among young people. Mr. Obama has come to represent that spirit, but he has failed, pollsters say, to transform it into meaningful engagement in the political process.

“If you were to call it an Obama generation, there was a window,” said John Della Volpe, the director of polling at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. “That opportunity has been lost.” He said the youth who came of voting age around the time of the 2008 election have since lost interest in electoral politics, and pointed to a survey he conducted last year among 18- to 29-year-olds. Although 70 percent said they considered community service an honorable endeavor, only 35 percent said the same about running for office.

“We’re seeing the younger cohort is even less connected with him generally, with his policies, as well as politics generally,” Mr. Della Volpe added, referring to Mr. Obama. Sergio Bendixen, who worked as a pollster for Mr. Obama, blamed a social media-addled generation accustomed to instant gratification for the drop-off. After getting swept up by the Obama movement of 2008, he said, “They went on to the next website and then the next click on their computer. I just don’t see the generation as all that ideological or invested in causes for the long run.” [Continue reading…]

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4 thoughts on “The Obama legacy

  1. A Meshiea

    I love how the author blames the disaffection of youth on an instant gratification culture rather than being turned off by the politics as usual thrum of the Obama administration.
    Yeah its those spoiled-brat dumbed-down youths fault.

  2. Paul Woodward

    That observation about lack of interest in politics among the younger generation comes from Sergio Bendixen, one of Obama’s pollsters. Sure, it lets the administration off the hook. But I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the idea that a hyper-connected generation is by virtue of that fact, also a highly distractable generation.

    A recent Pew survey of Millenials, Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation, found that among the latter three, about 42-44% identified themselves as environmentalists, while among Millenials it was just 32%.

    In response to the question, “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people,” just 19% of Millenials said most people can be trusted, compared with 31% of Gen Xers, 37% of Silents and 40% of Boomers. These differences can’t simply be attributed to age, since the older generations when asked the same question in earlier surveys had much higher levels of trust (at least pre-1992).

    What the combination of these statistics suggest to me is that over the last two to three decades, there has been a profound degradation in social cohesion. Increasingly, the individual does not see him or herself as part of a wider society. Social networking might enhance bonds of affinity but also undermine a broader sense that we are all in this together.

    If that’s the case, then the idea of large-scale collective mobilization to tackle an issue like climate change will be viewed as nothing more than wishful thinking — which then becomes a self-fulfilling expectation.

  3. A Meshiea

    It’s not that surprising to me that there is an increasing level of distrust among the Millenials, which would naturally spill into a sense of individualism, given the record of politicians in bed with crony capitalists and the cynicism through which all politics seems to now play out. When you put on top of that a massive bailout program that is shifting debt on to future/younger taxpayers (if indeed that debt can ever be paid off), I would be surprised if they wished to engage at all. The youth vote in Obama can hardly be blamed for getting even more unnerved by the policies implemented by the candidate of hope and change. That this spills over into lack of concern over the environment or climate change seems, well, natural.

  4. Paul Woodward

    As far as measuring Obama’s level of responsibility, I don’t think it can be overestimated. He betrayed the trust of millions of his supporters.

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