President Obama’s reelection team has a daunting task ahead of it, and that is to accomplish what no incumbent president has done in 75 years. As stated in the New York Times, “No American president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has won a second term in office when the unemployment rate on Election Day topped 7.2 percent.” Since most believe unemployment will still be above 7.2% on Election Day 2012, the president’s team of advisers is scrambling to solidify their base. They know that independents, who broke for Obama in 2008, are deserting him in droves, and center-right voters are more energized than in 2008, meaning many, if not most, of the four million or so Bush voters from 2004 who stayed home in 2008 won’t do so this time around.
For this reason, the president has abandoned all pretense of being the president of all the people, and launched a divisive campaign designed to stir up enough resentment in the black and Hispanic communities to get them to vote in numbers as close to the records they set in 2008 as possible. He is engaging in class warfare on an unprecedented scale, prompting even a Time magazine editor-at-large to describe his behavior using inappropriate sexual slang. He is pandering to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, speaking in favor of their “rights” while stopping just short of endorsing gay marriage – see blacks and Hispanics above to understand why he doesn’t go “all the way.”
But whither the young?
Oh, he’s gone to college campuses and Facebook headquarters, and he’s doing a Twitter town hall this week. His celebrity appeal is sure to hold some young people entranced, and he’s going to up his “hip” quotient every time he’s in front of a group of young people. Just watch his vocal inflections, body language and words change ever so slightly, as if he’s saying, “Vote for me because I’m cooler than anyone they’ve got.”
He touts the luxury of young people staying on their parents’ health insurance policies until they’re 26, and awaits the surge of gratitude from the youth demographic.
There’s only one problem. They have to stay on their parents’ health insurance because they can’t find work. They’re putting off major life decisions because the economy is tough, especially for recent college graduates, and they are disillusioned with the president’s failures in economic and foreign policy.
A French prime minister once said, using a quote he borrowed and which other statesmen, notably Winston Churchill, have repeated in various forms, “Not to be a socialist at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head.”
The idealism of 2008 has given way to the realities of 2011, and young people are seething at the loss of opportunity.
This fact isn’t lost on the President’s opposition, and a new group has reached out aggressively to the 18-29 demographic. Paul T. Conway, political communications professional and former Department of Labor chief of staff, has parlayed his expertise in the economy and the workforce, and his talents as a political operative, into a new organization called Generation Opportunity.
Generation Opportunity directly addresses issues that matter to young people entering the workforce at a perilous time, whether they’re high school graduates, just out of college or graduate school, service men and women, young parents, or any young person who wants to act to make tomorrow better than today.
They are encountering an America unlike young generations past, and Generation Opportunity seeks to give them the information and the tools they need to make their own impact, rather than waiting for a politician in Washington to act on their behalf.
Their approach must be working. Their Facebook project, Being American, has 762,243 fans as of this writing, and they’re adding more at an astonishing rate. Every time I refresh the page, usually within a minute or less, another 25 to 30 have joined. These numbers easily make them the single largest youth-focused organization in the social media space.
While they are developing a state of the art website, they are heavily focused on Facebook because, to paraphrase and modify Willie Sutton’s famous phrase, that’s where the politically active young people are.
According to technology site CNET.com, 99 percent of 18-to-24 year olds have profiles on social networks. A Pew Research Center study reveals that Facebook users are much more politically active and engaged than those who don’t use Facebook at all, by several orders of magnitude. These are the people who go to meetings or rallies, discuss politics with their friends or co-workers, and persuade them to vote for a particular candidate.
In short, Facebook is where the young grass-roots political activists hang out, and Generation Opportunity’s social media strategy equals boots on the ground for the right candidates.
Young people are poised to have an impact in 2012, in much the same way as they did in 2008, except this time, it’s to correct a mistake that has cost them jobs and – yes, opportunities. Generation Opportunity is a compelling indicator that the youth vote isn’t President Obama’s to claim. After all, it’s not hip to be young, gifted and broke.