Barack Obama emerged from his post-presidential hibernation this week to urge young people to get involved in politics. “The single most important thing I can do,” he said at a student forum in Chicago, “is to help…the next generation of leadership to take up the baton.”
Good words, I suppose, but eight years too late.
Because while his party wallowed in the wonder of his administration all that time, celebrating each legislative triumph and gloating over Republican fury, it showed little appetite for welcoming any fresh faces into the party’s hall of power. The result? Instead of strong, young Democrats with robust ideas to oppose the Trump agenda, voters are seeing a parade of bitter Old Guarders still seeking retribution for decades of political warfare in the Reagan/Bush/Clinton years.
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Consider this: Even after two rides in the time-machine of the Oval office, Obama – at 55 – still looks like a kid next to Congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer who are both 77 (truly old enough to be his parents) and Chuck Schumer who is 66. Hillary and Bill Clinton are 69 and 70, which makes them also well qualified for discounted coffee at McDonalds. Sure, a few younger Democrats timidly raise their hands and are reluctantly acknowledged by the party bosses. But not often.
Age isn’t everything, of course. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders captured the enthusiasm of millions of young voters with his energetic defense of Democratic ideals. No one cared that he too is deep into his 70s. Yet once Sanders got the boot, in too many ways party leaders barked like an old man at teenagers playing hacky sack on the lawn: “Hey, you kids, behave yourselves or get out of here!”
And now, in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, 67 percent of the respondents say the Democratic Party is “out of touch.” That’s a worse number than either Donald Trump or the Republicans suffered.
All of which suggests Barack Obama may need to do more than encourage young people to step into Democratic politics. Perhaps he will also have to urge older leaders to step aside; something they have shown no inclination to do, no matter how their party suffers.