This commentary was originally published on CauseCast.org.
As Congress' August recess drags and the media clings to every twist and turn of the White House's pimping of so-called health care reform, I am routinely asked why people my age are so quiet and unwilling to do any field organizing on this issue for the president we fought so hard to elect. It's painfully obvious now that the administration's willingness to drop the public option is the tipping point on a series of broken campaign promises that have left his army of young hope-mongers stewing in reality.
I allocated some time to wondering 'why' last week and spoke with several friends and colleagues about it. (And, of course, tweeted it.) Then, after my pal and Wilshire & Washington producer, Blaise Nutter, and I saw the documentary film, By the People: The Election of Barack Obama, I realized that it goes well beyond health care. The apathy stems from a mounting frustration over the administration's disconnectedness from the youth movement that launched its momentum. The film's fervent retrospective of the exhilarating campaign trail reminded Blaise and I of how uninspired we feel a year later.
On screen, I saw the faces of friends from the Iowa caucuses who I traveled the country with for months crashing on couches, one of whom now drives a taxi cab in Pittsburgh to pay his student loans while he waits for a job in the administration, which I've heard is a common plight. Perhaps we were too idealistic then and a crash was inevitable. (That is what the Hillary supporters warned us, right?) Still, this deflation of enthusiasm must be addressed if the Obama administration is going to accomplish its long-term objectives. Health care is a great opportunity to bring us back after some unfortunate missteps, but now, especially with the public option in danger, it can't be that narrowly focused. We have to get back to the roots of the Obama movement.
To single out health care is myopic, when what's really happening is a collective re-evaluation of Obama's delivery on his campaign promises to our generation. Young people, many of whom were first-time political participants in '08, are often not seasoned in the way governing works. After disappointments like failed bipartisanship on the stimulus bill, lip service on torture, a perplexing stance on gay marriage that even Dick Cheney's got right, half-hearted transparency and use of new media tools, and an ambiguously undefined and possibly unwinnable war in Afghanistan, we're frustrated. We signed on for change in Washington, and our leader is not cracking down on the Democratic Congress and its futile leadership, which has disappointed us for almost a decade.
So fighting against this unprecedented skepticism, when Barackstar goes on Today to sell reform to Meredith Vieira's audience of Mommy bloggers, it's not readily obvious that 1) he's speaking to us or 2) how watered-down health care legislation is going to help us realize the vision of hope we bled for. Nor is David Axelrod's dissertation of an email last week debunking health care reform "myths" an easily digestible and sharable tool.