Obama inspires few to take up the calling of public service

The New York Times suggests that President Barack Obama’s popularity with younger Americans is not enough to inspire a new generation of candidates for public office.  Jason Horowitz reports that 70 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds consider community service to be “honorable,” but only 35 percent say the same about running for office. (He does not provide comparable data for earlier generations.) It seems to be one more way that Obama is falling short of his more fabled predecessors:

For all the talk about the movement that elected Mr. Obama, the more notable movement of Obama supporters has been away from politics. It appears that few of the young people who voted for him, and even fewer Obama campaign and administration operatives, have decided to run for office. Far more have joined the high-paid consultant ranks.

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Unlike John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, who inspired virtual legislatures of politicians and became generational touchstones, Mr. Obama has so far had little such influence. That is all the more remarkable considering he came to office tapping into spirit of volunteerism and community service that pollsters say is widespread and intense among young people.

A possible reason for Obama’s presumed inspiration gap can be found in a post filed by the Atlantic’s James Oliphant the day after the Times story: “Obama’s Real Job: Fundraiser in Chief.”

Oliphant writes, “President Obama has attended 373 fundraisers during his five-plus years in office. That’s just about one every five days or so.” It’s also ahead of the fundraising efforts of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush at the same point in their administrations.

As spending on political campaigns soars, partly thanks to the Supreme Court’s easing of restrictions on individual contributions, elected officials are expected to spend more and more of their time putting the personal touch on donors. Obama may be able to connect with newer voters from time to time by appearing on Between Two Ferns, but as the nation’s most prominent Democrat, his immediate priority is raising enough cash to prevent (or minimize) another “shellacking” in this fall’s congressional elections — elections where seniors will have a disproportionate influence, since younger voters are notorious for skipping the midterms.

Anyone who made their first political contribution to Obama in 2008, maybe $25 or $50, must have been surprised by the nonstop phone calls and emails asking for more and more. The same is true for anyone who donated to Mitt Romney, congressional candidates, and even referendum campaigns. It shouldn’t be surprising if these newcomers to politics quickly develop the belief that it’s all about cash, not public service.

Photo: Barack Obama is sworn in as president in January 2009. (CNS photo/Jim Young, Reuters)

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