WHIPPLE: A vote is not a fashion statement

“Politics” has always been the essence of boring. When kids and grownups sat at separate tables for dinner, the kids talked about video games and music and told dirty jokes that we thought our parents couldn’t hear. The parents, as far as the kids could, tell, never strayed from a single topic.


One word seemed to encapsulate all the reasons Peter Pan refused to grow up. Mundane yet complex and largely devoid of explosions, politics was exactly the kind of thing a kid wanted to steer clear of. Like fine scotch, politics seemed something better left to adults.

That is, until 2008, when Barack Obama rallied the nation’s voting and nonvoting youth into a frenzy of adoration. Gone was the stuffiness, the decided uncoolness of politics: Obama admitted to having done drugs, balled it up regularly and, most impressively, spoke about government in a way that we could almost understand.

Even we ignorant kids knew what a disaster the Bush years had been, and Obama’s booming message of change was simple and accessible. He had rap songs written about him, he had his face emblazoned on Shepard Fairey’s immortal “Hope” poster and suddenly an Obama pin or T-shirt was a must-have back-to-school accessory. If ever a politician were to be called hip, it was Mr. Obama. At once a brand and a movement, he was something everyone wanted to be a part of.

And when Election Day rolled around, he reaped the rewards. According to a Tufts study, 2 million more voters aged 18-29 went to the polls in 2008 than in 2004. What’s more, they didn’t just vote: They voted Democratic. A Pew Research Group study showed Obama taking an unprecedented 32 percent lead amongst voters aged 18-29 on his way to the Oval Office.

Four years later, the promise that seemed too good to be true has proven just that. As much as we wanted Obama to walk on water, to effortlessly part the murky seas of Washington and bring about the change he promised, he has turned out to be mortal like the rest of us. Maybe Obama has underperformed; maybe Republican obstructionism has him stuck in the mud; maybe our hopes were unrealistic to begin with, even under the best of circumstances.

Regardless, we still face many of the same problems that we wanted to leave behind in electing Obama. The economy is stagnant, Wall Street still has carte blanche, global warming may be accelerating and Washington’s partisan paralysis shows no signs of letting up. The picture is bleak, and it is hard not to feel a twinge of disappointment that Obama has not been able to wave his magic wand and make it all disappear.

But there never was a magic wand. Perhaps young voters’ 2008 enthusiasm was fueled by some measure of naivety, our lionization of a man in whom we saw everything we wanted to see. It was so easy to jump on Obama’s bandwagon without a second thought; the whole thing was neatly prepackaged, a miracle cure for everything that ailed us, and we flaunted our “Change” pins and T-shirts with oblivious enthusiasm. Obama was a label we rushed to wear.

But a vote is not a fashion statement. Is the sheen of novelty all that drew us to the polls, or did we actually believe in what he had to say? Are the ideals we embraced in 2008 just so four years ago?

Much has been made of our generation’s shrinking attention span, and the upcoming election is going to be a critical litmus test of whether we bother to maintain our commitments. Beyond that, it’s going to be a test of whether we were ever committed at all. Come November, we will be forced to confront how much our dedication four years ago actually meant. Was “Yes We Can” worth any more than “Just Do It?” Was Obama just a fad?

We will find out soon enough, and the answer will carry more than a little weight. Obama is the same candidate he was then, minus the new-car smell. Given Mitt Romney’s recent comments regarding government dependency, the lines are just as clear as they were in 2008. Whether American youth will stick around for the second act remains to be seen.

David Whipple is a freshman in Pierson College. Contact him at david.whipple@yale.edu.


  • Dowager

    “Obama was a label we rushed to wear.”

    Just like polyester pant suits, Obama was and should be considered a passing fancy shoved down the throats of the naive and uninformed masses, by “journalists”, the media, and party circuit sycophants. Anyone who ever believed Obama was anything more than an empty polyester pant suit ought to be frightfully embarrassed. Put that chapter of your life in a drawer and don’t admit that you were EVER that misguided.

    • jamesdakrn

      Still better than bush/cheney or mccain/palin

      • Dowager

        I disagree but they aren’t on the ticket, so it’s rather irrelevant.

  • terryhughes

    Yes, a 2008 vote for Obama is a bit like seeing a picture of yourself in bell bottom pants or chest wig. Worse., a young Obama voter should today feel more like an Ambien user (or date-rape-drug victim) waking up naked in Central Park or somebody’s back yard.

    Obama is a catastrophe for the young. Unemployment has been above eight percent for more than three years, and 12.7 million workers remain unemployed today. The unemployment rate for workers under age 25 has been consistently about twice as high as the national average, with a great many more stuck in dead-end “underemployment”. Consider:

    For young high school graduates, the unemployment rate was 32.7 percent in 2010 and 31.1 percent over the last year (April 2011–March 2012), while the underemployment rate was 55.9 percent in 2010 and 54.0 percent over the last year.

    For young college graduates, the unemployment rate was 10.4 percent in 2010 and 9.4 percent over the last year, while the underemployment rate was 19.8 percent in 2010 and 19.1 percent over the last year.

    There is no evidence that young high school graduates have been able to “shelter in school.”

    Between 2000 and 2011, the real (inflation-adjusted) wages of young high school graduates declined by 11.1 percent, and the real wages of young college graduates declined by 5.4 percent.

    Young graduates lack opportunities for advancement.

    For the next 10 to 15 years, the Class of 2012 will likely earn less than they would have if they had graduated prior to Obama’s election.

    The cost of higher education has grown far more rapidly than median family income.

    What will bring down the unemployment rate of young workers are policies that will generate strong job growth and opportunities in the private sector while shrinking the grossly inefficient public sector. School vouchers. Reductions in the number of public employees and in their bloated overall compensation to that of comparable private sector workers. Privatize many public functions, such as prisons, freeway maintenance and construction and the Postal Service (eliminating its insane monopoly). Prohibit local regulations that inhibit commerce (this means you, New York taxi medallion owners). Repeal ObamaCare. Much more.

    Obama and his Democrats propose only more of the same failed government interventionism and incentives to further grow dependency on government: Crazy “green” investment money to Obama cronies. Federal “fiscal relief” to states (that is, more subsidies to rapacious public unions and irresponsible state and local spenders), additional “investment in infrastructure (that is, pork, and misdirected crony spending by people not trained or even selected to make efficient decisions), expanded “safety net” measures (that is, more dependency), and “direct job creation” programs (again, the public workers and more dependency).

  • lakia

    I would contend, for many, a vote is EXACTLY a fashion statement. It says “I’m hip. I’m cool. Look at me and how INCLUSIVE I can be because I voted for Obama. He smoked weed, he did a few lines of coke- he may be vapid, but he’s sooo cool…”
    No different, really, at all from fashion.