We regularly hear about Barack Obama’s appeal to youth, about how he has been able to excite and mobilize a generation of young people to become politically involved, his rare ability to excite young people, and about how many new voters will register (and vote Democrat) as a result.
All this seems to be true. The question, however, is whether it is a good thing for the country and not just for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.
The answer is that it probably is not. With a few exceptions — and those exceptions are usually those rare cases when young people confront dictatorships — when youth get involved in politics in large numbers, it is not a good thing.
Of course, there are those who believe that the mass movement of America’s young people in the late 1960s and early 1970s was a great thing for America — a bright shining example of young people mobilized against an unjust war and on behalf of a world filled with love.
If that is how one views the legacy of the baby boomer generation, the mobilization of youth for Obama is probably a great — not to mention nostalgia-inducing and personally validating — development.
For those of us who view the late ’60s and ’70s as the beginning of a downward spiral for American society, however, the mobilization of many young people on behalf of Barack Obama is not encouraging. It is only the latest example of young people getting excited as a result of their unique combination of naivete, lack of wisdom, romantic idealism and narcissism.
Most adults throughout history have recognized that young people are likely to be unwise given their minuscule amount of life experience. After all, most adults, even among baby boomers, believe that they themselves are wiser today than 10 years ago, let alone than when they were 20 years old. It is remarkable, then, how often adults romanticize youth involvement in politics — "Isn’t it heartwarming to see young people getting involved?"
Actually, for a wise adult, it is not heartwarming.
Most thoughtful observers now regard the massive youth demonstrations in France in 1968 as the narcissistic explosions that they were. As French columnist Jean-Claude Guillebaud (Le Nouvel Observateur) wrote recently in the New York Times on the 40th anniversary of those demonstrations:
"I lived through May ’68. I was a 24-year-old graduate student and a journalist who covered the revolt, during which students armed with cobblestones battled the police, and 10 million workers went on strike. … To borrow an expression of Lenin’s, we were useful idiots." Continued…