(Not) talking 'bout my generation...

One student-for-Clinton's journey from hope to despair


Lori Leibovich
October 25, 1996 12:03PM (UTC)

a photograph from election night 1992 shows a young woman with a
grin on her face, hair matted down with champagne, wearing a red, white and
blue T-shirt declaring: "Clinton/Gore for Wisconsin."

The photograph is of me, and looking at it now it seems far away and
surreal.

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Four years ago on the first Tuesday in November I oozed with pride,
relief and, yes, Hope. It was a heady time for liberal-leaning college
undergrads. We gulped down Clinton's promises of health care reform and
environmental protection like they were Rolling Rocks. I still remember when the Bill and Al show came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to tape an interview with Rock Line, a syndicated radio show, and how they wooed students with talk of deficit reduction and expanding access to student loans — to the sounds of Technotronic and INXS. While it wasn't exactly "amnesty, acid and abortion," we could relate. I was so swayed by his rhetoric, I signed on as a Clinton/Gore foot soldier and dashed off to Washington, D.C. after graduation to be an intern at the Democratic National Committee.

Eleven days from now, when the country elects the same man as president,
I will feel nothing. Call me disillusioned, or whatever the adjective du jour
to describe Generation X is these days. Politically, at least, it's true.

The disenchantment, for me, set in soon after President Clinton's inauguration. Big time. My timeline of frustration goes something like this:
first, he backpedaled on gays in the military. Then came the Zoe Baird/Kimba
Wood/Lani Guinier fiascos. That was followed by the health care reform fiasco, his early knuckling under to the Republican Revolution, and culminated in his cowardly midnight signing of the Defense of Marriage Act and a compassionless welfare bill.

But somehow it's not the sum of the scorecard that is most upsetting. Clinton had me believing in the political process. I honestly thought I had found an antidote to
Reagan and Bush, not realizing that, regardless of party
affiliation, politicians are mostly cut from the same, synthetic cloth. As my
trust in Clinton began to evaporate, I was left feeling sheepish and
naive — like the young Republicans who worked so feverishly for Nixon only to
find out he was a crook.

What happened? "In '92 Clinton came out with a different set of ideas that really spoke to young people," says Farai Chideya, a 27-year-old political analyst at CNN and
the author of "Don't Believe the Hype: Fighting Cultural Misinformation about
African-Americans." "He had no base of support and was much more vulnerable.
Now that he's the comfortable incumbent he doesn't need young voters in the
same way."

Which is perhaps why we haven't seen much of Bill Clinton this election season on MTV's Choose or Lose
— where, in '92, he unpresidentially
revealed his undergarment preferences and joshed about inhaling marijuana. "I wouldn't say that youth voters have been ignored during this election,
but they haven't been courted either," says Cari Rudd, a spokeswoman for Rock the Vote.

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To be fair, Clinton may have kept more young people in the political process.
"The number of 18-29 year-olds who vote this year will probably rise because
of the Federal 'Motor Voter' law," says Raymond Wolfinger, a professor of
political science at the University of California at Berkeley. Young people are also being lured to the polls by Rock the Vote's zealous voter registration drives on campuses and in urban areas. And sure, Clinton tips his hat to young people when he belabors his "bridge to the 21st century" and touts cyberspace ventures. But he's not with us the same way he was last time. He's gotten wiser. And sadly, so have we.

Last summer I covered a Clinton speech in Salinas, California. The President
was in town to stump for the local Democratic Congressman and to praise the
Salinas police force for its success with a gang prevention program. The
President praised the officers and ex-gang members by name and waxed
philosophic about community, responsibility, safety and opportunity for young
people. I cradled each one of his heartfelt, beautifully articulated words. I
was genuinely touched. But only for a second.



Quote of the day

Condemned to repeat it

"Nothing has changed. Things have gotten worse, people hate each other, and it's only a matter of time before someone shoots again. We haven't learned a thing."

— An Israeli woman at the spot where prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated one year ago Thursday. (From "A Year After Rabin's Death, Israel No Closer to Unity," in Friday's New York Times)


Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

MORE FROM Lori Leibovich



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