Iowa Killed Apathy
New America Media, News Analysis, Russell Morse Posted: Jan 04, 2008
Editor's Note: The Iowa primary saw more political enthusiasm from young people than New America Media writer Russell Morse has ever witnessed.
Many years ago, Kevin Costner starred in a magically absurd film set in Iowa. There were ghosts and cornfields and some baseball and I can’t say I know exactly what it was about, but a famous catch phrase emerged: If you build it, they will come. Last night, Barack Obama built it. And the kids showed up.
I don’t want to give the impression that I’m slipping into mindless, sappy optimism, but I will say that after Obama’s victory in the Iowa caucus, I am more optimistic about the future of America than ever before in my young life. And remember, I’m of the generation that saw the Space Shuttle Challenger explode in our faces, yawned at two fruitless and futile wars in the desert, invented school shootings, watched the towers explode and sought solace from the mania inside our cell phones. So I know a few things about pessimism, irony, sarcasm, cynicism and apathy, as you can imagine.
But no longer. Now I’m apathetic about not caring. Four years ago, it was my job to document the laughably rigged and painfully boring presidential race between George W. Bush and the other guy through the “lens” (yes, editors actually use that word) of young people. I went to the Democratic convention in Boston and discovered that all the kids there were drunk, on drugs and cared more about baseball than any election.
I went to the Republican Convention in New York and was just creeped out by the wholesome pastiness of over-zealous pre-pubescent Christians and sharply dressed teenaged libertarians.
At the time, I thought it was my generation’s fault. Nothing’s changing because we’re not making it change. If only we were engaged and passionate and opened our eyes, we could undo the wrongs of the drug- addled, money-hungry false idealists that came before us. But that was far off the mark. We never cared because we never had a reason to care. And I can safely say that as of the evening of January 3, 2008, we do have a reason.
It’s a formless ideology known only as “change” and it’s draped loosely across the shoulders of a Kansas Kenyan from Hawaii, but it’s a reason to care.
I had the pleasure of being the first to tell several friends about Obama’s victory and every single one of them gasped, grinned and shrieked with glee. That seems unremarkable, but four years ago, I was sitting down to a hangover breakfast with some young, idealistic and educated people and I told a joke about Bush and Kerry and my friends sat stone faced, blinking heavily until one asked, “Who’s John Kerry?” It was May and Kerry had long since secured the nomination. This time around, we’ve got sixteen-year-olds watching the Iowa caucus.
It’s not Obama. It’s not the pending doom of a nuclear Pakistan toppling into the laps of lunatics or Iran swallowing Iraq. It’s not four dollar gas or dead polar bears. It’s not student loans or Mexican dishwashers without paperwork. It’s just time for us to take the wheel and do something right. Or even something dastardly wrong. But something different.
I can’t say whether I’m more excited about Obama’s victory, though, or Hillary’s defeat. As much as I love Bill, I just can’t get behind that woman. She’s a shrew, a tired old partisan with a paranoid conscience and an irritably scripted routine. Her husband is a genuinely great man whom I will always respect and admire, but as they say: every John has his Yoko. I rejected Hillary’s “patina of inevitability” from the start, but I was afraid hers was a machine that couldn’t be stopped. Much as I considered the maniacally hawkish neo-cons and corporate goons calling the shots right now unstoppable, I was afraid we’d be stuck with a Botox-addled Queen Clinton on the Pennsylvania throne for the next four years.
But Iowa knew better. And more accurately, the young people of Iowa knew better. Barack said, “I want youth.” He built the Field of Dreams. And the kids showed up. They came pouring over the gently rolling, snow dusted plains of the tall corn state with the highest percentage of radon in its soil (true), the birthplace of Tom Arnold, Ashton Kutcher and Buffalo Bill, where 3 million white people work the land for its corn to sweeten our soda pop and curl our Fritos and they sent a clear message: Apathy is dead. Or whatever.
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