Sunday, February 24, 2008

Can We?

Young Mike is not as young as he used to be. He's pushing 30. He may have even hit that decade marker already--I don't know. When he came to my company, it was either his first or his second Real Job after college. He started as an editorial assistant and grew with the company, finally snagging the job he had always wanted, as Art Director. Management didn't come easily to him, even though he wanted it. He was, after all, young--and not in the way people have always been young.

Young is a brand in itself now. It's almost a profession. It comes with certain signs and signifiers that are hard to get rid of. Young today is Simpsons young--Daily Show young. There is an entire and all-encompassing culture of snarkiness and cynicism and that was mother's milk to him. Ironic detachment wasn't just a way of dealing with the world; it was, and is, the way. And that makes it difficult to move from labor to management--from wage slave to motivator and leader. He has had to learn on the job, and he has grown up nicely. But he's still Young Mike, and he's still pretty snarky and cynical and ironic. He may, now, be willing to move beyond that point when he has to accomplish something at work, but it's still his opening position and, clearly, where he lives most comfortably.

And yet...

And yet I hear that Young Mike is campaigning actively for Barack Obama. I moved away from the Home Office over a year ago, so I don't know what goes on, day to day. But I hear things. And I heard that Young Mike was in it to win it--that he was giving up his time and energy for the campaign, though in what ways and to what extent, I don't know. What I do know is that he is not shy about it. His "away from the desk" message on AOL Instant Messenger is "Yes We Can."

There's been a lot of talk about how Obama could win not only the nomination but the presidency if he can tap into the untapped energy of The Disenfranchised Young. He's doing it already, and they may ride him all the way to the White House. But I wonder how long a President Obama will want The Young in his car. Next February, after the inaugural balls are over and the hard work begins, does Obama say to his supporters, in essence, "Thanks for the help; we'll take it from here"? Or does he say to them, "It's just beginning. Now yes we can has to become yes we will. Now you need to keep the pressure on Congress, and on business, and say yes you'd damn well better. Because I can't do it without you"?

After 9/11/01, we were ready to be asked for a sacrifice. We looked to our president and waited for him to call upon us. And he said, "Go shopping." And, sadly, we complied, and settled down, and forgot, for the most part, how we had felt on that day after The Day.

People are comparing Obama to Kennedy--mostly because of youth and charisma. But I wonder if the comparison will continue. I wonder if a President Obama will be willing to challenge the cynicism and solipsisim and lazy selfishness of us all, and say (in his own idiom), "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

Because it's time. And there is much to be done. And we've simply got to stop thinking that there's somebody else whose job it is to do it.

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