Autumn used to be an easy season. Weather was always the tipoff that the season of dying and remembrance was at hand; at the first bite of a frosty breeze, the vegetation in the neighborhood surrendered and dropped to the ground faster than Italian infantrymen. Bare trees and northerly winds made the perfect opportunity to immerse oneself in mawkish music, drink mate and frown for hours at the awful Meaning of It All.
Who’s got time to immerse anymore?
I forgot about the autumnal equinox altogether last week, and the closest I’ve come lately to any poetic reflections was reading a review of a Leonard Cohen documentary filmed back in the days we were both doing our best rope-a-mope moves.
The weather didn’t tip me to the change of seasons this year. I just ran out of good tomatoes.
I have come to the conclusion that the BLT, like straw hats and white bucks, must be put aside at summer’s end. It’s too sad to have to settle for hydroponic tomatoes after the bounty of the season past, where every day was an invitation to acid reflux and I never once got hold of a bad love apple.
Working on the last fat sandwich of the season, the yin and yang of life-affirming lettuce and tomato and life-threatening bacon and mayo, I chewed on something else as well; a report from Politicsville, where the Demander-in-Chief was using old-school telephony to remind those young punks on college campuses to shape up and stay involved for the upcoming mid-term elections. Perhaps wagging a reproving finger, he said, “You can’t sit it out.”
Actually, they can.
Candidate Obama gave the kids plenty to stand up and cheer when he was rocking across the USA in 2008, but the president of the same name hasn’t roused the same fervor. Maybe it’s because the fires he’s had to put out aren’t as inspirational as Burning Man, but maybe it’s also because the team that ginned up Obamamania sort of took the kids for granted.
That would be an easy mistake to make. After all, the Grand Party of the Old hasn’t exactly busted a move to steal the youth demographic from Obama. There was a half-hearted pitch earlier this year to plug a new crew of Republican Congressional candidates called “The Young Guns”, whose average age turned out to be 47, which is only three years short of making AARP’s mailing list. The Democrats, as they seem to have done with labor, with ethnics and progressives, might have assumed that twenty-somethings would stick with them because they’d no other political place to turn.
The problem is, to revisit a line from ’08, if you’re not fired up, you’re not ready to go. At just the point when the Obama team could use some of that vintage enthusiasm to spread among the Democrats hoping to hold onto majorities in the House and Senate, the kids are not alright, according to reports of a Pew Research poll citing a drop in the number of 18-to-29 year-olds who identify with the Democratic Party.
Might as well go ahead and turn the keys over to the Publicans and let them put the nation in “R”, right? Not so fast, says professor Angus Johnston, student activism historian. When he read the fine print in the Pew poll, he realized that the net drop in Dem kids was only five points. From a high of 62% in giddy ’08, through the travails of reviving the economy, winding down Iraq and reforming health care, youth support for Democrats nationwide has dropped only to 57%, a wide margin over Pub kids. In fact, says Johnston, “Since inauguration day, youth support for the Democratic Party has declined less than youth support for Obama.”
Okay, so maybe the List Generation could be persuaded to rouse themselves and hit the polling places on November, but you have to admit the national Democrats aren’t making that an easy prospect. When people have been sold on the concept of hope and change, a Congressional majority that won’t even go out on a limb to vote for something as wildly controversial as middle-class tax cuts ain’t exactly a profile in courage. Tack onto that the lingering disappointments, from the continuation of DADT and the Afghan war to coddling billionaires and subverting net neutrality, and you might wonder why anyone at all would vote for the Democrats again.
Quite simply, the Republicans are even worse.
No matter how down on the Demos you might be, it is worth considering that eight years of Republican rule in the White House (plus GOP House and Senate majorities 12 of the last 16 years) headed us toward the ditch in the first place. Giving these same brigands a majority in Congress again would be the worst kind of reward for bad behavior.
The Great Obstructionist Party and its billionaire benefactors have no shame. Publicans will rail against the Obama stimulus programs even as they beseech administrators to allocate funds to their districts. They hollered incessantly about choice during the health care debate but never offered a public option. Their concept of retirement planning is the privatization of Social Security, tossing people’s nest eggs into the same financial markets that almost sunk the ship of state in 2009.
Democrats are frequently vain, often short-sighted, sometimes wildly idealistic and sometimes insufficiently so. They suffer from a marvelous array of human frailties and refuse to conform to any doctrinaire notion of what a political party ought to be, probably because they were crazy enough to let so many diverse personalities in under the same banner.
Despite their flaws, despite their failures, Democrats are the better bet to elect this November or any November, for one simple and incontestable reason.
They’re not Republicans.
Courtney Haden is a Birmingham Weekly columnist. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.