Artists, writers, and other generally hip folks in New York were electrified in 2008 by the prospect of an Obama presidency. There were nonstop gatherings and fundraisers; They Might Be Giants could sell out a $1,000/head event in DUMBO. But, going into 2012, this energy seems to have been exhausted. The most startling evidence? “The Obama T-shirts,” David Freedlander reports in a long Observer piece, “have been turning up at the Goodwill and at garage sales.” While these same t-shirt relinquishers may still pull the lever—er, tick the proper box the piece of paper they’ll feed through an optical scanner—it doesn’t seem that they’ll be hosting any more “Karaoke We Can Believe In” events.
Those inside and outside the Obama youth movement say that the conditions of 2008 are not replicable this time around, regardless of how the first three years of the Obama administration have gone. Then you had a generation of people weaned on the Bush years, war and the Patriot Act. When a thoughtful and cool biracial candidate came along, it was hard not to get swept up in it. A dash of naïveté, of the kind that believed “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” could be an actual policy platform, helped too.
The question is whether this willl hurt Obama—whether that ’08 hoopla got people into voting booths who wouldn’t have gone otherwise, whether Obama can survive without those votes, whether youthful apathy will help decide this election. Though, as the “online organizing guru” for Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign points out, “Talk to me if Michelle Bachmann is the Republican nominee; then you’ll see how fired up everyone will be.”