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Greg Campbell is an obscure writer for the Fort Collins, Colo. But on Oct. 26, he penned what serves as the perfect window into the mind of many Barack Obama supporters. Campbell attended an Obama rally with his 11-year-old son, Turner. Turner was excited by Obama’s typical “American Dream” stump speech. Campbell himself was excited not by Obama, but by his son’s reaction: “For me, (Obama’s message) sunk in because I could see it through the eyes of an 11-year-old.”
We have reached a dangerous point in American politics when parents take their voting cues from 11-year-old children. But Campbell isn’t alone. Americans left and right have paid homage to Obama for “getting the youth involved.” In fact, young voters barely surpassed their 2004 turnout percentage — voters aged 18-29 comprised just 18 percent of the electorate, as opposed to 17 percent in 2004. Nonetheless, there is a feeling that youth led the way in this election. “A new generation looks ready to engage in American democracy — and not just on Election Day,” gushed the Christian Science Monitor on Nov. 10. “Encouragingly, this generation actually wants to interact with government, politics, and public service.”
And Obama is looking to capitalize on that youth support. Obama’s sophisticated online network is geared toward mobilizing teenage minions. Obama’s proposed civilian national security force is directed toward calcifying support for him into support for his political program. And Obama’s “national service” requirement is an attempt to turn young people into government employees.
There is no question that the Barack Obama Movement was led not by elder statesman, but by college students and twentysomethings. This election cycle provided Generation Y a chance to assume unearned moral superiority over their elders by promoting a black president. It also provided Generation Y a chance to live out the precepts of their public school educations, which focused on “changing the world,” as well as “diversity” and “tolerance.”
Here’s the big question: Why in the world should we be excited about young Americans defining our politics?
No political mass movement led by young people has ever resulted in good. In fact, the most murderous mass movements in history have been led by young people. Nazism became popular among the youth before it became the German national theology; Hitler, of course, cultivated young people by targeting them for service in his SA, or Sturm Abteilung, and later, his Hitler Youth. The movement for Soviet Communism was led by young devotees of Lenin, who swallowed his sadistic ideology wholesale; later, the Soviet system would ask children to spy on their parents in service of the state. Similarly, the Chinese Maoists were largely composed of young people; so were the Vietnamese Viet Cong. It is no coincidence that the current Islamofascist movement is dominated by militant young Muslims.
In America, the story is the same. The disastrous 1960s were a result of the Greatest Generation giving full leeway to the baby boomers. Students led the movement for surrender in Vietnam, the anarchist movement, the so-called gay rights movement, and the free love movement. America has been plagued with the results of those movements ever since. Young people have the enthusiasm for politics, but not practical experience or breadth of learning. They spend little or no time studying history. Instead, they are told from birth that they are the future, and that the future is in their hands. They rely on high-flown idealism rather than historical knowledge. Young people largely agree with the following precept: “True idealism is nothing but the subordination of the interests and life of the individual to the community … The purest idealism is unconsciously equivalent to the deepest knowledge.” Such idealism is the most basic building block for dangerous movements. But young people are not trained to see the danger in such idealism. It is only when young people grow up that they see Hitler in those lines rather than Barack Obama.
Celebrating the leadership of the youth in 2008 election, then, is a foolish exercise. Young people should be involved in politics — they should protect their interests. But they, like all other voters, should be expected to get informed, not just motivated; they, like all other voters, should be expected to learn about policy, not merely follow a leader. And the rest of America should be expected to take the voting preferences of those who have never studied history, held a job, paid a bill, or built a family, with a large grain of salt. What inspires 11-year-olds – or 21-year-olds — should not be what inspires 40-year-olds.