Give the Obama Youth credit for this: At least they didn’t vote their self-interest.
The cadres of college students and recent graduates who swooned and fainted for Barack Obama four years ago will long be remembered for one of the most ill-considered fliers in the annals of self-defeating enthusiasms. In the cold light of day, the youthful idealists, believers, and activists of 2008 look like the lamentable saps, patsies, and suckers of 2012.
Rarely has a politician owed so much to a constituency he has served so poorly. The president promised young voters the moon, and all they got was their old childhood bedroom back in their parents’ house. He fired them with an inspirational vision that didn’t include struggling to find a job to begin to pay off their onerous student loans. He sold a new kind of politics and gave them more debt and more entitlement spending that they will labor to fund all their working lives. He talked of hope and change — and gave it to them good and hard.
Obama’s inability to deliver a recovery worthy of the name has devastated recent college graduates. By one count, half of them are unemployed or underemployed. More of them are carrying debt from college — more than 60 percent — than have full-time employment. Studies show that graduating into such a weak economy has a long-lasting dampening effect on the earnings of young people. They bear the brunt of the economic failure of their champion.
If man doesn’t live by bread alone, neither does the youthful Obama voter. He is attracted to the president’s social views, to his supposedly forward-looking progressivism, to what his historic election symbolized in 2008, to his cool and cerebral style. Obama hasn’t created the conditions for them to get a decent job, but he can represent their mutual values. In effect, the president’s approach is, “Let them eat gay marriage.”
Based on fiscal calculations alone, it would take a clinical psychologist, not a political scientist, to understand the young Obama voter. He isn’t sticking it to his elders or to the establishment; he is sticking it to himself. The basic dynamic of the entitlement state favors the old over the young. It is natural that retirees and baby boomers would be fiercely protective of the entitlement status quo that they will benefit from at someone else’s expense. It is less natural for the someone else — i.e., the young worker — to volunteer for the privilege of getting fleeced.
Older Americans needn’t worry about the unsustainability of our fiscal commitments. It is of little concern that interest payments on the debt alone are projected to consume almost 10 percent of GDP by 2037. It is of only theoretical interest that the 75-year unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare are $8.6 trillion and $26.4 trillion, respectively. John Maynard Keynes famously said, “In the long run we are all dead.” For youthful Obama supporters, the long run won’t come soon enough to save them from the consequences of today’s policies.
They qualify as double victims of the president’s Keynesian-inflected deficit spending; they suffer from the still-anemic economy now, yet must pay the $5 trillion bill later. They are Generation Debt. On the current trajectory, they will inherit the country after the locusts have eaten. But, hey, did you see the president “slow jam” the news on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon?
Crumbs from the president’s giveaways — like low-interest Stafford college loans — can’t possibly compensate for this larger picture. Some young people notice. A New York Times article reported that the president is encountering more youthful skepticism than in 2008: “The nation’s first-time voters are less enthusiastic about him, are significantly more likely to identify as conservative and cite a growing lack of faith in government in general.”
For all that, the president is still performing well among voters under 30. They were fooled once, and will be fooled again. They are Obama’s dupes.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2012 King Features Syndicate