Standing there in the endless ice-caked line leading to my caucus site last week, I experienced something I can only describe as extraordinary: everywhere I looked I saw the same thing — excited young faces. And I gather from the media reports that similar excited young faces have been swamping polling stations and caucus sites all across the country — and, yes, most, although by no means all, of them have been there for Barack Obama.
This is the real political miracle of 2008. After years — generations, really — of pundits and civics teachers alike bemoaning youthful political apathy, suddenly it’s a whole new world.
I guess that’s what I find most troubling about having one of my favorite columnists, Paul Krugman, try to write the whole thing off as just a cult of personality. What I see is something more like the audacity of youth — young people believing that Americans really can change this nation and this world for the better.
Is that naïve? Probably a little: but having lived through so many decades of “realistic” pessimism about the power of concerted action in furtherance of the public purpose, I say: Vive la Naïveté!
It is as though somewhere in their racial memory (before you get mad look up what it means) these kids have remembered what their parents often seem to have forgotten — how often in the history of this nation governmental initiatives have made dramatic improvements in people’s lives: the Progressive Movement, the New Deal, the Civil Rights Movement and on and on.
Am I giving the kids too much credit? Probably, but I’m cool with that too.
I think I understand where Paul Krugman’s coming from, by the way: Obamamania among liberals makes no sense to him, because, in a wonkish sort of way, Clinton’s positions are slightly to the left of Obama’s, especially in the area of health care.
Clinton, for example, is probably right, as Krugman has repeatedly argued, about the necessity of having mandates be part of any truly universal health insurance plan. The problem, however, is that in the type of 51% versus 49% dog-eat-dog political universe Clinton would be elected in, she could never get the plan adopted anyway.
The kids believe, I think, Obama offers the chance of creating a new universe in which it might actually be possible to get some big things done.
I struggled for a long time before deciding to go with Obama: I still like Hillary and think she’d make a good president. At the end of the day, though, I think Hendrik Hertzberg has a better point than Krugman when he says, “Hillary Clinton would make a competent, knowledgeable, and responsible President. Barack Obama just might make a transformative one.”
But to be honest, all such logic aside, the thing that finally pulled me in Obama’s direction was the kids.
God knows my generation has done more than its share of fu*king everything up.
We took the inheritance of a remarkably equal America, handed down to us from The Greatest Generation (fittingly I will link to a Krugman article), and turned it into a new Gilded Age of economic inequality. We ran up a horrific national debt largely to fund tax cuts for the already overly-wealthy and passed the bill onto the kids, started a stupid war and again passed the bill on and, even worse potentially, largely ignored an increasingly likely environmental apocalypse.
And guess what? Over the next 30 or 40 years most of us will conveniently die off, leaving the mess we’ve created for the kids to deal with as best they can.
Who the hell are we to insist that our logic should prevail? If the kids of today believe Barack Obama is the man for the job — as, in fact, they seem overwhelmingly to believe — then who am I to disagree?