Obama, the young, and the magic of Making a Difference

HOW’RE YOU gonna keep ’em down on the blog after they’ve heard Obama?
    For an old guy, I have a lot of ways of keeping in touch with the young, idealistic and enthusiastic — my kids, my kids’ friends, my friends’ kids… and Weblogs.
    But these kids today — they need to learn to stick to something. Law student Laurin Manning was really cooking with her LaurinLine, one of the foremost political blogs in the state. Then she quit toMax2_2
politick for real, rather than just writing about it.
    Then there’s Max Blachman [at right],
son of my friend Moss, who started “Democrats in the South” just over a year ago and was cooking along fairly well for a while. He last posted on March 3.
    Both Laurin and Max have gone to work for Barack Obama.
    And they are far from alone. Thursday, I met Elizabeth Wilkins [below left], originally from New York, who’s down here as youth vote director for the Obama
campaign. What pulls Elizabeth so far away from home? “It’s not
every 23-year-old who gets to work on a campaignWilkins for a man who might be the first black president.” True, but there’s more than that.
    Poor John McCain is laying off members of the Pepsi Generation left and right, but his Senate colleague from Chicago seems to have an employment agency going for the kids. (Not that they’re all paid. Most aren’t.)
    Yes, campaigns in general tend to be youth-heavy. The rest of us have family responsibilities; we seek job security more lasting than the next news cycle.
    But there’s something about Obama that makes the youthfulness of his supporters seem more apt, something that reminds me of my own youth — and not just because the first time I saw him in person was when he spoke to the College Democrats of America over at the Russell House on Thursday. It was there that I heard him, among other things, reassert (to applause) that he would rush right out and have meaningful talks with the thugs who run Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea and, by logical extension, pretty much any other regime that would be tickled magenta to be handed such a great propaganda photo-op.
    It’s easy for a graybeard like me, or that crusty old neocon Charles Krauthammer, or Hillary Clinton for that matter, to dismiss such promises as “irresponsible and frankly naive” — as did Sen. Clinton to anyone who would listen last week after her chief rival gave her that opportunity to sound mature, tough and sane.
    But beyond the fact that young people think mean people suck, and it’s mean not to talk to people, and that we should have done more of that before going all Angry Daddy on Saddam, there’s a positive reason why Obama has a particular appeal to the young: He describes public service as something you can engage in and still feel clean.
    Poor Joe Biden, who’s even older than I am, got into all sorts of trouble for calling Obama “clean,” but that’s just what he is. And for those who are focusing on details of the latest 24/7 news cycle’s scandal or whatever, it’s easy to forget how appealing “clean” can be to the fresh-faced.
    It can be a compelling issue, and it belongs completely to Obama. Bill Clinton’s wife, late of the Rose Law Firm, can’t touch it. Nor can the $400 haircut who wants to be the nation’s trial lawyer. And those old guys over on the GOP side — forget it.
    The 23-year-old who still gasps somewhere within me is convinced that Barack Obama is completely for real when he channels JFK via Jimmy Carter. Remember Jimmy Carter — not the old guy with the hammer who shakes his finger at us like Miz Lillian when we fail to be sweet to other nations, not the Grand Incompetent of Reagan Revolution lore, but the original, the one whose green bumper sticker I had on my orange 1972 Vega back when even I was 23?
    He was never going to lie to us. He would lead us from the partisan, crooked, nasty cesspool of Watergate and the angst of Vietnam. He would help us to be the kind of country that JFK had promised we would get to be, back before Everything Went Wrong.
    Well, I do. And it wasn’t about Democrat or Republican or liberal or conservative or black or white or money or any of that stuff embraced by the people who had messed things up. It was about Clean. It was about Meaning.
    I first spoke to Barack Obama — very briefly, because of cell phone problems while I was traveling through mountains — a month ago. He only wanted to talk about one thing: Clean. He was unveiling his plan for “the most sweeping ethics reform in history,” — “Closing the Revolving Door,” “Increasing Public Access to Information,” and other Clean Government 101 stuff.
    But with that overflow crowd of college kids providing better reception than my Treo, I realized that for this candidate, such yadda-yadda basics were more than just the talking points of that one day.
    “Here’s the point,” he told them. “I wanted you to know that I’ve been where you are. I loved the world as a young man, and I wanted to make a difference. I’ve often been told that change wasn’t possible, but I’ve learned that it was. I believe that it still is. And I’m ready to join you in changing the course …”
    Not just the course of war, or the wicked oil companies, or me-first politics, or meanness, but changing the lousy way that things are, period.
    He invoked “an image of young people, back in the civil rights movement, straight-backed, clear-eyed, marching for justice…” and told them they could be those young people. They were those young people.
    He reaches across time, across cynicism, across the sordidness of Politics As Practiced, offering to pull them in to the place where they can make a difference.
    You can see how, to someone who’s 23, he’d be worth ditching the blog for.

20 thoughts on “Obama, the young, and the magic of Making a Difference

  1. Rick Senkowsky

    An interesting piece for sure but like you I was there once too. The difference is that big government is not the answer. I am a firm believer that more things get done more efficiently in the private sector. It is unfortunate that the likes of Mr. Obama all seem to think the future is in some sort of hybrid socialistic state and I don’t see it happening. Socialism in any form has not worked since the beginning of time and I am not sure why this current crop of candidates feel that they can do it better. Like so many folks my age, 55, I have worked hard to provide the quality of life for my family and have not had to rely on the government to make me a whole person. The youth of today need to go out and be willing to take risks, work hard and do the right thing. They should make their life’s work have a meaning, make life better for those around them. I am a Mechanical Engineer by profession and my career has been spent making things safer, more efficiecient, more environmentally friendly and more cost efficient. This is how I have been able to make a contribution to society. Some for sure may not think this is a noble profession because of the industries I have supported but what it has proved is that we can make life better without a new social plan.
    I could easily ramble on and on but won’t. Instead I would offer that the success of one’s life should be within that person. To know and understand the difference between good and bad and right and wrong and accept the fact that there are evil people in the world. People who have ulterior motives have always attempted to convince others that their message is a good one and that they should support them without question. Mr. Obama may have wonderful ideas but are they realistic, are they achievable and more important are they the desires of the majority. In my profession before you can provide a solution you must first truly identify the problem and I am not sure we are willing to identify the problem.

  2. Ronald Abrams

    Have you been lost on what the Ron Paul
    revolution is doing and the numbers of young voters he attracts on the net?

  3. weldon VII

    After the naivete of Jimmy Carter produced the worst presidency since Herbert Hoover, Brad Warthen goes back-in-his-20s ga-ga about a candidate who makes Carter look guile-ridden.
    Actually, Obama’s so clean it reeks. Either he’s naive to the point of painful humor, or he’s just preaching naivete to fool the young into voting for him.
    Either way, the statement Obama made in the last debate about talking face-to-face with the head of every rogue nation should have been enough to ELIMINATE him as a serious candidate for the presidency in the mind of every wizened journalist across the country.
    Yes, that statement should have thrown up a red flag the size of one flapping on a car lot for everybody.
    But, no, our fearless editorial leader gives him positive ink because he just can’t ditch that youthful urge for a squeaky clean government that acts like the perfect parent.
    Brad, we’re the parents now. We know the world is not a squeaky clean place. We should be able to see that negoatiating with a crackpot despot like Kim Jong Il will do nothing but harm.
    Yes, Brad, the reason Obama appeals to the young is because the young haven’t seen enough.
    Sure, he’s black, he’s cool, he looks like a Duke basketball player and the new world order, too.
    But that really isn’t enough to qualify a man to lead the free world, is it?

  4. Randy Ewart

    You forgot RFK, Nader and the artist formerly known as John McCain.
    In leadership, ideas matter! The Great Communicator was a 9-5, eat some jelly beans then take a nap ideas man while Baker managed. “Bully” for him. We want a fire side chat to comfort the nation. We want the buck to stop there. We want a leader to offer us the moon within a decade. Leaders give us “4 score and seven years ago”.
    Obama has a dream and many of us are buying into it because we are sick of scorched earth campaigns and govern by polls politicians.

  5. Claudia

    It’s enough to make an envious old forty-something like me cry! Carpe diem to all those young visionaries… to be young, to stand on the pivot of history and to KNOW it… how magnificent.

  6. Amy

    We must be about the same age because I haven’t been interested in politics since I volunteered for Jimmy Carter’s campaign when I was in college. I’ve met Obama several times and attended several events, and each time I feel as if there is finally a politician who sincerely believes in public service and who can project to the rest of the world a sense of reason, tolerance, and responsibility that is so sorely lacking today. Hillary may be the queen of a political machine and adept at politically correct sound bites, but Obama speaks to people and for them as well. She does not do either for me.

  7. Karen McLeod

    I read his statement about talking to the heads of less than friendly nations, and I don’t find it necessarily naive or irresponsible. As I read it he did not guarantee to meet with everyone unconditionally, nor did he promise wonderful photo ops to all (and how impressed are you by a photo-op picture? Really? Why?), nor did he promise to give away the store. He just said he was willing to talk. When did refusing to talk improve communication, relationships or anything else with anyone? Yeah, he’s clean, and that’s good. He’s also smart, and straight forward. Look where secrecy and obstinate refusal to communicate with the other side have gotten us. Would you really want 4 more years of the Dick Cheney approach to diplomacy? I’ve read Mr. Obama’s position statements, and while some could be stronger on specifics (and show me a candidate you can’t say the same thing for)he’s got positions I can easily support (not all, but most). I’m not sure that I will ultimately vote for him, but I am certainly considering it. By the way, I’m 60, and have my fair share of cynicism.

  8. lin

    And what was the age of the Founding Fathers when they fought in the War of Independence? When did values, freshness, energy, and integrity become retro in the U.S.? Turning the page over to a younger generation who is even now inheriting the world we wise heads are leaving them (global warming, global terrorism, terminal cynicism, etc)–isn’t that what we parents must encourage and accept? I’m near 63 and find Hillary’s mean and calculating politics of smears turning me away from the Democratic Party.

  9. weldon VII

    According to the Chicago Tribune:
    (Quote) One questioner asked if the candidates would be willing to “meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration” with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea—hostile regimes with which the Bush administration has had limited diplomatic contact.
    “I would,” Obama said, calling it “ridiculous” not to talk to other countries as a punishment. (End quote)
    Sounds pretty unconditional to me, Karen.
    Sorry, but from where I sit, we should view the leaders of those countries down the barrel of a gun, not across a conference room or a dinner table.
    Petting the snarling dog gives it a chance to bite you, particularly when the mutt has no ideological justification for its hostile stance.
    Or, to put the shoe on the other foot, what could the boss dog learn from discussion with a flea?

  10. bud

    Weldon, how many nuclear bombs has Bush prevented the North Koreans from building because of his refusal to talk with Kim? The neocon approach with North Korea has now been tried and it has failed.

  11. Karen McLeod

    And how long shall the killing and hatred continue? Shall we refuse to meet, thereby ensuring that we look like silly, small children refusing to speak, because we’re mad? Talking is not the same as giving in. It gives us a real chance to find out something useful about the other people, and it gives the people of the countries hope that something other than war, can be worked out. We need to insist that there are better ways than war, and be ready to offer them. We may end up fighting anyway, but at least we’ve tried other means.

  12. Herb Brasher

    Exactly, Karen. We might not like some of the people we have to talk with, but what we don’t understand is the honor-shame cultures of other parts of the world. The way we deal with them is to assume a Pharisaical approach–we are the wonderful saviors of the world, come to right all the wrongs. If we could only implement the concepts of “saving face,” and using a mediator, we could give the whole process a chance. Saddam was a ruthless dictator, but he was also a secular Muslim who had no interest in the development of fundamentalism. Methinks we would have done better to leave him in power as a buffer, and spank his hands every time he tried to make trouble.
    What happens often, I think, is that junior diplomats living on the ground realize through experience that another approach needs to be used, but they get trumped by the power hungry in Washington, who are anxious to flex American muscle power and show the world how righteous we are. It isn’t very convincing.

  13. weldon VII

    If not talking hasn’t worked, it doesn’t necessarily follow that talking would work. In fact, talking might make the situation worse.
    Take the last marriage counselor I saw, for example. He did a wonderful job of making the two of us talk about things we had never discussed before. We got a textbook result, too: I moved out the next day.
    Talking put my wife and I at each other’s throats in a way we had never been.
    Sometimes, silence is the finest negotiating tool.

  14. bud

    Bridges are collapsing due to insufficient funding of the nation’s infrastructure. 10s of thousands die on the highways each year. Why? Hundreds of billions wasted on a failed occupation of a harmless middle-eastern nation simply to satisfy one man’s ego. These are part of the many hidden (opportunity) costs to our disasterous foreign policy decisions. The democrats need to step up to the plate and end this bloody quagmire. Just cut the damn funding for this thing. Why is this so hard? With sectarian deaths once again hitting the 100/day level can we finally lay to rest the claim that the “surge” is working?

  15. weldon VII

    Yes, Bud, the bridge in Minnesota collapsed because of the Iraq war, and that’s why I’m bald, too.
    Come to think of it, Bush’s ego is also responsible for the Holocaust and the extinction of the dinosaurs.
    But we still can’t just leave a vacuum where Iraq was for Iran to fill up. Or at least I hope we don’t.

  16. Karen McLeod

    Perhaps if Bush had carried out some genuine negotiations with Iran instead of listening to the propaganda which Hussein mouthed for the general ‘edification’ of his own people, and perhaps if Hussein had been able to hear anything other than pre-emptive demands and the beat of war drums, then maybe the Iraq war could have been avoided, and thus the problems which that poor racked country is and will produce for us (extra al Qaida, a large unstable nation where we wished for stability, another country Shiite fundamentalist, more humanitarian aid–oh wait–Mr. Bush is out to save the Iraqi people: he didn’t say anything about their survival).

  17. weldon VII

    Even more than that, Bud. I’d say each of us blames the other’s preferred political party for screwing up the world.
    And, apparently, neither of us wants the other to get in the last word, either.


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