To Obama's Chagrin, Young Voters Get Serious

Jonah Goldberg

10/7/2010 12:06:30 AM - Jonah Goldberg

"Repeatedly stabbing the air with his finger," a visibly frustrated Barack Obama complained to Rolling Stone: "It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election." The very "idea that we've got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible. ... If people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren't serious in the first place."

Well, it took him long enough. Some of us could have told him these people weren't serious two years ago. Back then, enthusiasm for Obama jumped the rails of sanity. A San Francisco Chronicle columnist insisted that Obama was a semi-mystical "lightworker." George Lucas insisted he was a Jedi Knight. Author/spiritualist Deepak Chopra said Obama represented a "quantum leap in American consciousness." Oprah merely insisted he was "The One."

Obama publicly encouraged all of this bizarre-messianic stuff, with rhetoric about "we are the ones we've been waiting for" and invocations of "hope" and "change" -- as if these were serious campaign platforms, ostensibly in the hope of wooing young idealistic voters who needed to be wooed like that to drop their Game Boy consoles. That's why volunteers trained at "camp Obama" were instructed to proselytize, not campaign. They were told, according to The New York Times, that they should avoid discussing the issues but rather should "testify" about how they "came to Obama," as if he was some sort of religious figure.

Immediately after the election, a collection of Hollywood stars not seen since "Cannonball Run" was in the theaters got together to make a YouTube video in which they pledged to do all sorts of nice and worthy things. But also some silly things. For instance, Anthony Kiedis of the band Red Hot Chili Peppers pledged "allegiance to the funk, to the United Funk of Funkadelica." Then, later, while kissing his biceps for emphasis, he pledged to "be of service (bicep smooch) to Barack Obama (bicep smooch)."Others joined in. Demi Moore, too, pledged to be Obama's "servant."

Now, Obama seems to think these same voters are less serious because they don't believe that nonsense anymore. Obama whines that he wishes he didn't have a weak economy. Vice President Biden actually calls Democrats whiners for complaining about the weak economy. But, as Ramesh Ponnuru wrote on National Review Online, it is "precisely the weak economy and weakly engaged voters that resulted in his big margin and padded congressional majority in the 2008 elections. Take either out of the picture, and Obama still wins but lacks the votes to screw up American health care. Take the good and bad together, Mr. President."

It's almost as if Obama is stunned and disappointed to discover that people who can be won over by a Pepsi-style ad campaign might be lost by 20 months of economic decrepitude, nearly 10 percent unemployment and the worst summer unemployment rate for young people since 1948. Or, perhaps they lost their ardor because Candidate Obama and President Obama are very, very different people. Candidate Obama was a passionate bipartisan. He was hopeful; he promised change. President Obama has been the most partisan president since World War II. He's not hopeful anymore, he's literally a finger-wagger who spends a shocking amount of time complaining about how unfair his critics are, how bad his press is and how hard he's working despite countless vacations and golf outings.

As for the change he promised. Well. "The way Washington works" hasn't been transformed, unless by that you mean "made worse," and the president's signature accomplishment, health care reform, remains as unpopular as it was when he shoved it through Congress on a partisan basis.

Many leading liberals insist that today's "millennial" generation -- the "next New Dealers," according to Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne -- is the most liberal in memory, and polls support that. But it should be no surprise. "In America," Oscar Wilde observed, "the young are always ready to give those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience." A Pew poll released last week showed that a third of young voters didn't even know the Democrats controlled Congress. But such surveys are a snapshot. As events change so do our views. Whatever motivated so many young voters in 2008, far fewer of them are similarly motivated today to vote to let Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi keep their jobs.

A recent "Rock the Vote" survey found that the Democratic Party's advantage among young people has been cut in half. Obama sees it as proof that his most ardent supporters are less serious today than when they thought he could walk on water. But for those of us outside the White House bunker, it's proof that at least some of them are finally getting serious at all.