Here Romney might have had an opportunity, as a successful business leader, to connect with ambitious young voters and offer a message of economic self-empowerment. As Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, points out, Romney had an opening among the 50 percent of youth who are neither in college nor college graduates.
But if Obama resembles your tired dad nagging you, Romney is like your friend’s rich dad who’s a little out of touch. His views on immigration and same-sex marriage don’t square with those of this historically diverse and tolerant generation. And comments about the importance of two-parent households with moms who rush home to cook dinner seem stuck in the 1950s.
Romney’s economic advice to young folks? “Start a business,” he told university students in Ohio. How? “Borrow money, if you have to, from your parents.” That’s a cruel joke to kids whose parents may not have been able to afford college at all. In most polls, Romney is way behind among young voters, regardless of their education status.
In the end, young people are still a natural constituency for the president. Obama can reignite our passion by promising a fresh start and tapping into the urge for collective self-determination seen in last year’s Occupy Wall Street movement.
I remember standing in Zuccotti Park in the rainy predawn last October when word came down that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg would let the Occupy Wall Street encampment stand another day. A roar of elation passed through the crowd of thousands. Some of my close friends and my younger sister, then 24, dropped everything to spend 20-hour days in encampments across the country brainstorming ideas to address income inequality, organizing through social media and feeding each other and the homeless people with whom they shared the parks. (In the past week, many young Occupiers have channeled that energy into organizing for Hurricane Sandy relief.)
What drew so many to the Occupy movement was the experience, if fleeting, of designing and living in a society of real hope and change. This was the energy of Obama’s first campaign — and it brought together many of the same people and organizations — reborn as an effort to reject mainstream political solutions and “be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Believers in the 2008 Obama want to hear words like these backed up with action from that Obama, who was less like our dad and more like our hero. We want a little bit of that rhetorical verve and swagger. We want to believe again — we just need a reason.
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