As David von Drehle says, this is turning out to be the year of the youth vote.
If you want to feel old, just tell a group of teenagers today that you can remember a time when the Clintons were hip. There was this guy on TV, see, called Arsenio Hall, and Bill Clinton went on wearing sunglasses and playing a saxophone, and, well, no, it wasn’t on YouTube â€” this was before most people had heard of the Internet â€” oh, never mind. There’s nothing new, for today’s young people, about a Clinton replacing a Bush.
Claire McCaskill’s daughter, to take one newly eligible voter, was all of 2 years old when that happened the first time. The Gingrich revolution came during her pre-K years; impeachment was around second grade. In other words, no matter how many times Hillary Clinton intones the magic word of 2008 â€” change â€” it’s going to ring a bit hollow, because she is an eternal piece of their mental furniture.
Obama, by contrast, radiates the new. He doesn’t just talk about change; he looks like change. His person and his platform are virtually indistinguishable. Obama, like Tiger Woods and Angelina Jolie, has one of those faces that seem beamed from a postracial future, when everyone will have a permanent, noncarcinogenic tan. He has small kids and a low BMI. His voice rumbles with authority, but his ears stick out like Opie Taylor’s. His campaign is crawling with cool young people, and the candidate fits right in. We’ve yet to see Obama flustered or harried; instead, he gives off the enigmatic Zen confidence of the guy who is picked first for every game.
Being out of touch with Youth is something one gets used to after a while. I realized many years ago that, to youth, I am an alien in their world. I accept this. This is not a value judgment; it’s just how it is. In fact, I’ve reached the age at which the people who used to be the youth I was alien to are now becoming the new aliens to new youth. If that makes sense.
At The Guardian, Suzanne Goldenberg posts a video in which she talks to students at the University of Missouri, my alma mater. (None of the campus looked familiar. I think it was sacked by barbarians and rebuilt at least a couple of times since I was there.) The most intriguing point made by Goldenberg is that the earliest political memory of these young folks is the Ken Starr witch hunt of the Clintons. It seems to have left them with a revulsion to scorched-earth partisan warfare, which is one of the reasons they are flocking to Barack Obama.
Older people are more jaded, which is what happens to most of us who live past Youth. To paraphrase something someone said in an email, Obama’s “post-partisan” message works with Youth and not so much with DOFHs (i.e., DFHs who devolved into geezers) because we geezers lived through the political ugliness of the 1980s and 1990s, whereas younger voters either don’t comprehend how bad it was or believe that Obama can somehow bring it to an end.
I don’t think Obama can bring it to an end. However, all things that had a beginning will also have an end, including the whackjob Right’s dominance of politics. And I think what can end it, or at least chase it into the shadows for a couple of decades, is an overwhelming crush of public opinion against it. And if the young folks can lead us to that, good for them. I’ll follow.
I’ve been saying all along that the real task ahead of us is to heal the nation’s sick political culture. This will take a Really Big Movement, not just one leader. However, it would be good to have a leader who will allow himself to be led. As Tom Hayden says,
Are we the people we have been waiting for? Barack Obama is giving voice and space to an awakening beyond his wildest expectations, a social force that may lead him far beyond his modest policy agenda. Such movements in the past led the Kennedys and Franklin Roosevelt to achievements they never contemplated. (As Gandhi once said of Indiaâ€™s liberation movement, â€œThere go my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.â€)
Truly great leaders are great because they transcend themselves and become the embodiment of the best ideals of the people. Lincoln, FDR and JFK, to a greater or lesser extent, achieved this. I don’t know if Obama has it or if he’s good at faking it. However, I do not believe Senator Clinton, for all her smarts and talent, is capable of leadership on that level. If she were, I think we would have seen it by now. Although she talks about change, what she’s really offering is her proven ability to finesse the status quo, not change it.
I don’t recall ever disagreeing with my mother politically.
Our differences are so profound that we are tiptoeing around the subject, heeding the age-old advice never to discuss politics. It has gotten ugly. She calls me foolhardy, ignorant and a traitor to my gender. I tell her she is irrational, blind and stuck in the past.
I am an ardent Barack Obama backer. She is a passionate Hillary Clinton supporter. She is 67; I am 36.
It’s a fascinating piece. To the senior MuÃ±oz, Senator Clinton embodies the struggles women of her generation faced. To the younger MuÃ±oz, Senator Clinton embodies the struggles her mother’s generation faced but which are no longer relevant.
I’m closer to Mama’s age than to Daughter’s, but I spend enough time with younger feminist bloggers to understand that the way younger women see themselves and their sexuality and the Cause are pretty alien from the way I see these things. But I’ve learned to shut up about it. My kids are grown, and my biological clock stopped ticking sometime in the last millennium. At this point my biggest barriers are ageism and osteoarthritis. Feminism is not my fight any more. Young women have to deal with the world they inherited, not the one I grew up in, which is long gone. I can offer young women my support and encouragement, but not my advice.
Speaking of the good old days — I have long thought that one cannot understand the 1960s counterculture without understanding the 1950s. Looked at in a vacuum, the counterculture might seem frivolous and self-indulgent. But to me it was a healthy and natural reaction to the repression and hyper-conformity of the 1950s.
Similarly, the young folks may be gearing up to a kind of political counterculture, one that attempts to sweep away the toxic acrimony and pseudo-conservative insanity of the past couple of decades. They want freshness. They want a whole new political culture. Maybe they’re naive. But, folks, they’re right.
See also Katharine Mieszkowski, “Young Voters Are Stoked.”
Update: Let’s hear it from the young folks. See also Blogdiva.