Why Gen Y loves Obama


Barack ObamaIt might be the age of Facebook, but rarely has there been more of a prime-time TV moment. Barack Obama ambled down from the podium after his speech and embraced his wife. Michelle was wearing a chunky pearl necklace and a figure-hugging purple dress. Tens of thousands of people waving 'change' signs screamed.

Bruce Springsteen's euphoric 2002 song 'The Rising' blared as Barack and Michelle mingled with their fans in the Minneapolis stadium. 'Michelle looks like Jackie O', my 20-something friend whispered to me. We were sitting in her New York apartment, a time zone away, amazed and enchanted by Obama on CNN. For the majority of young loft-living leftists in New York, Obama is our generation's JFK.

His victory was the culmination of a year of Obama-mania among kids in America. You want to know why he's the first-ever black candidate nominated to contest the US presidency? Start by talking to Generation Y. And not just in my hip neighborhood in Brooklyn. Right across America, young people have a crush on Obama. There are over 76 million members of Generation Y in the US. That makes Gen Y nearly as numerous as the 85 million Baby Boomers.

And people my age have been overwhelmingly for Obama. Twenty-somethings have voted for Obama in all but four states. In Virginia, a Republican-leaning state that Democrats want to win this time, Obama beat Hillary by 52 per cent. Apart from African Americans, Milennials have been Obama's biggest supporters.

And this mobilisation seems likely to continue. Right now, classifieds sites and noticeboards at New York unis are full of summer campaign jobs. Thousands of students are set to head off to Ohio and Florida and go door-to-door for Barack.

And if the primaries are any guide, more young people will vote in November than have for decades.

All this civic involvement seems to belie the traditional stereotypes of Generation Y. In the past, Gen Y has been described as a group who are fixated on Myspace, Twitter and our blogs.

So how has the Obama campaign succeeded in reaching out to a group who've been seen as more interested in who's leading in friendship counts on Friendster than who's going to lead the World Superpower?

Superficially, it seems his campaign won out with the traditional pop-culture crowd pleasers: sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.

Sex and rock 'n' roll? Last year's 'Obama Girl' song 'I Got a Crush on Obama' was named by People as the biggest web video of 2007. A group called 'Barely Political' made the video, which features a voluptuous fan in a low-cut singlet lip-synching to syrupy R 'n' B.

Drugs? Obama's admitted using cocaine. And unlike the Clintons, he's been open about his dope fiend days.

So Obama's the rock-star candidate. But he's also more than that. His speech in Minneapolis on Tuesday invoked the tradition of liberal American reformers. He mentioned the legacy of Franklyn Delano Roosevelt, who built the welfare state. And he name-checked JFK, inevitably.

But he also seemed to promise a messianic rebirth. 'Generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children ... this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.'

This is the language of a total break in history: a new beginning. Even though Obama was a toddler during the 1960s, his rhetoric echoes the speeches of the time.

Indeed, he often sounds like a combination of Martin Luther King, with his social justice gospel, and Eugene McCarthy, the 1968 anti-war presidential candidate.

Although Obama is promising to end the culture wars that began in the 1960s with the feminist and gay rights movements, his young supporters see something different altogether. They believe that he will end the fights over abortion and gay rights by refusing to acknowledge that either are problems.

And, as such, for the first time in our lives, a Democratic Party presidential candidate doesn't seem that he's picking his policies based on the polls.

He also promises that we, too, can become part of his 'movement for change'. So maybe Obama wins the youth vote because he flatters our 'Facebook generation' vanity. Change what? Ourselves? The nation? Or our community? All of that, all at once! Obama's message seems ultimately that everything can change with one status change (that 'Barack Obama is now President').

If he's just another politician come November, we'll be ruing our naivety.

Charles McPhedran Charles McPhedran is an Australian who's lived in New York City for the last two years. He recently completed an MA in Political Science at the New School for Social Research.

Flickr image by an agent


Topic tags: charles mcphedran, barack obama, generation y, american politics, american presidential election



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Existing comments

I thought Eureka Street was supposed to be informed by a catholic moral perspective. This article is by someone who clearly does not share that position as evidenced by his manner and tenor when referring in particular to 'sex drugs and rock n roll', drug use, abortion and gay rights. Quite surprising!

Brian Symons | 11 June 2008  

Pity Obama is outspokenly pro-abortion. Many of us and our US cousins support most of his policies, especially anti-war, but can't condone the killing of unborn children.

Bill Barry | 11 June 2008  

I think Brian Symons has missed the point. The comment re "sex, drugs and rock-n-roll" was not about Obama's campaign or message but about the group which somehow found appeal in his message.

The more important comment is that Obama's campaign was able to utilise a medium which one specific generation understands and uses. Kevin O7 did something similar only last year.

Further, a number of commentators on ABC Radio in recent weeks have made similar comments in regard to Obama's superior use of a new medium. Not much different to JFK's better use of b&w television in 1960 when you think about it.

Ken Penaluna | 12 June 2008  

I did not miss the point referred to by Ken. The point I want to make is that this author when he writes concerning Obama:

'his young supporters see something different altogether. They believe that he will end the fights over abortion and gay rights by refusing to acknowledge that either are problems. And for the first time in our lives...'


'He also promises that we, too, can become...'


'So maybe Obama wins the youth vote because he flatters our Facebook generation vanity'

he claerly includes himself in the young supports category.

If I am mistaken perhaps Charles can say so and clarify his position.

It seems likely that Obama will win the next Presidential election and if he does so, I hope that he lives up to his promise to genuinely attempt to heal the divisions of the culture wars(a tough task) rather than to deal with the problem in the misleading way referred to in the article.

Brian Symons | 12 June 2008  

Roe V Wade settled the abortion issue for women. The blokes who cannot get pregnant should butt out and the religious nutters of all varieties should butt out as well.

A woman's body is her body, not the churches or anyone else's.

Marilyn | 14 June 2008  

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