Editorial: Back to school with Obama

http://newvoices.org/2011/11/10/0137-2/

Have things gotten so bad for the leader of the free world that he’s slumming it on the op-ed pages of college newspapers? Last week, an op-ed written by President Barack Obama targeted at the college crowd appeared in a handful of college newspapers, including The Harvard Crimson and the University of Texas at Austin’s Daily Texan.

For a sitting president to run an op-ed in student newspapers is uncommon, to say the least; this one drew the ire of some commentators. The College Media Matters blog said, A related post yesterday on Fox Nation ran with the headline, ‘Obama Reduced to Writing Op-Eds in Student Newspapers.’  A separate commenter on a Politico story wrote, ‘It’s a transparent and ethically challenged vote-buying gambit.’” (As an aside, CMM is a must-read for any student journalist.)

We’re not convinced. Since when is talking to a particular type of voter an example of buying votes? While Obama’s strategy is unorthodox, let’s remember that his 2008 campaign was known for its unusually media-savvy approach. This was certainly not the only factor in his election, but it made a big difference.

Given that the college students were a key part of his base in 2007 and 2008, it makes sense for Obama to make a direct appeal to the college students of 2011 and 2012. Obama’s article promotes his proposed student loan reforms – and it’s clearly intended to make direct contact with the folks who will actually be affected by the changes.

The op-ed says, “This is a tough time for a lot of Americans — especially young people. You’ve come of age at a time of profound change. The world has gotten more connected, but it’s also gotten more competitive. And for decades, too many of our institutions — from Washington to Wall Street — failed to adapt, culminating in the worst financial crisis and recession since the Great Depression.”

This op-ed is the opening salvo in a campaign to win the hearts and minds of college voters who are far less energized than their counterparts were four years ago. High hopes for the magical Obama presidency have been brought crashing back down to earth by three years of reality. Burdened by mountains of student loan debt and despondent about job prospects, they watched the economy continue to falter while he struggled impotently with obstinate Republican legislators.

He has every right to target them through political outreach, especially in a medium that many of them actually pay attention to. Reports of the death of print journalism are greatly exaggerated. At least, that’s case on college campuses. It may be unusual to see a college student reading The New York Times or Wall Street Journal, but you can expect the local college paper to be by many. (Whether they read it to stay informed or to get a good laugh is another issue entirely.) There’s nothing new or scandalous about tailoring your message to different constituent groups.  Pretending otherwise is disingenuous. Obama should be commended for continuing to engage younger voters on the democratic process.

Efforts to portray Obama as desperate for the support of young people are far-fetched, and we certainly haven’t heard any of the Republican candidates talking about student debt. Young people consistently vote more liberal than their elders, and they were unusually active in electing Obama.

Young Jews are no different. But if we buy the received wisdom that young people don’t vote and if we buy the scurrilous narrative that Obama is losing Jewish support because of his stance on Israel, we might be misled. Obama has been, by any objective measure, unconditionally supportive of Israel. America’s recent de-funding of UNESCO following its admission of Palestine is clear evidence of this: The Obama administration remains as committed to Israel’s interests — or at least a myopic vision thereof — as any in the past. The attempt to pain him as anything other than pro-Israel is specious at best.

Obama is in no danger of losing the Jewish vote. He’s in no danger of losing the college vote. And he’s certainly under no threat from young Jewish voters.

The only danger to Obama from young voters, Jewish or otherwise, is that they won’t be as energized in 2012 as they were in 2008. They may just stay home and vote for no one. But if they can be convinced that Obama is doing something for them — by op-eds or by any other means — they will turn out to vote for him once again.

New Voices Magazine editorials reflect the opinion of the New Voices editorial board.

 

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