How Obama lost Millennials

Milan Suri Freelance Writer
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My apartment looked out onto the main lawn of campus. As Obama sealed the election, Georgetown exploded with pajama-clad “Hope” devotees, sprinting from their dorms, blowing off term papers and literally running to the White House. Which, I might add, is quite an ambitious run. There was a conviction in the air that only one candidate was ever really running for president in 2008. The election was just making things official.

What was it about Obama? A sparkle of sorts. The way he struck terror in the hearts of the Republicans. Young and charismatic, practically oozing coolness.

Millennials overwhelmingly voted for Obama in 2008, backing him by more than a two-to-one ratio — 66 to 32 percent, according to numbers from Pew. It was rather simple really; Obama was a next-generation candidate who emanated charm and seemed to embody the American Dream as it was taught by our Boomer parents growing up. For millennials, it was a chance to vote for someone like them; younger and more enlightened than their parents, with a vision of a tolerant, more innovative American future. Moreover, it was the chance to be part of history, voting the first African American president into office.

Obama was able to carry their vote again in 2012 because Republicans failed to grasp the fact that our nation is destined for a more socially liberal future. For millennials, it was all relative. Obama had always been “better” than the opposition in that respect. His brilliance lay in his ability to engage voters, tap into their emotions and captivate them with what’s to come. He had a knack for depicting the opposition as not allowing our dreams to come true. For someone who campaigned on a platform that touted tolerance and change, he was quick to cast blame and drive wedges through the nation in order to further his agenda. A decisive strategy surely, he consistently managed to position himself against the slight minority, thus retaining his edge. It’s all the Republicans fault.

The shimmer wore off soon thereafter. Our problems are rather straightforward; we are saddled with massive college debt, many are virtually unemployable, and we lack any real political representation for our age group. Obama hasn’t helped millennials much with these, and hasn’t been effective on the few political issues my peers actually care about, namely gay marriage — which he embraced, but only eventually and reluctantly — abortion, and their wallets.

Social issues have consistently trumped fiscal amongst my peers, since most haven’t worked for long. We all have gay friends, but we haven’t paid years of taxes yet. I’d venture to say that eventually the vast majority of millennials will prefer the government out of their bedrooms and their wallets both, but it will take some time. Obama was beloved in 2008 and still better than Romney in 2012, but off the campaign trail and with his image tarnished by scandals, a shutdown, a disastrous rollout to his signature healthcare program, and stalled progress on other Millennial priorities, his image is starting to sink.

Obama has not been able to execute on the great ideas that most millennials so willingly bought into. He is simply a great theorizer and talker. Millennials drank the “yes we can” syrup and raised their expectations. A Wait But Why article about why we are so unhappy has been making the rounds; it argues that when our expectations are unrealistically high compared to older generations — and more importantly compared to reality — we are unhappy. The president is a case in point. Millennials expected real change; change in government, the way they do things and their effectiveness. It’s been five years and we still haven’t gotten it.

Democratic insiders believe Obama’s inability to get things done in DC is due to his character. He has no idea how to schmooze, network — to ‘Clinton’ so to speak — and when he decides something, that’s it. He comes across a bit too cocky and doesn’t know how to make the backroom deals that are an inevitable part of politics. And yes, that’s what got him elected. But he promised to do a lot more, and with a stalled government, there’s very little about the Obama administration in 2013 that inspires.

I’ll put it out there: Based solely on the perception of my peer group, it seems that Republicans will lose the White House once again in 2016. Millennials aren’t nearly as hyped as they were about Obama in 2008 and 2012, but the Democrats still sit a lot better among them. Hillary is a Clinton and a woman. Another historic moment in the making. Plus, let’s be honest, the Democrats are still perceived as reflecting modern, cosmopolitan values. Young 20-somethings will continue voting with their hearts and won’t stand for a party who is socially conservative. Obama has been a sure disappointment, but not nearly enough of one to turn Millennials towards the backwards Republicans.