Young Delegates Prepare for Democratic National Convention
Illinois Democrats take center stage this week at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The DNC will be President Barack Obama’s chance to respond to Republicans who spent last week in Tampa denouncing his leadership. That makes the mood at the National Convention much different than it was four years ago, when Obama was first running for the nation’s highest office.
"Hope and Change" was a campaign slogan that caught on like the chorus of a pop song. It was a message that helped propel a first term Senator from Illinois to the White House. Those two words are now haunting Barack Obama as he tries to hold on to the Presidency.
“It all started off with stirring speeches, Greek columns, the thrill of something new," Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Paul Ryan said last week at his party's National Convention. "Now all that’s left is a presidency adrift. Surviving on slogans that already seem tired. Grasping at a moment that has already passed. Like a ship trying to sail on yesterday’s wind."
Even Democrat Kwame Raoul, who represents Obama’s old district in the Illinois state senate, admits the glean has worn off. Still, he believes voters will come through for Obama, and he said that Obama has done well as President with the caveat of “under the circumstances.”
“When you’re a candidate that most of the country didn’t fully know, knew of his oratorical skills and things of that nature," Raoul said. "Being a candidate is a whole lot different than having the job, and it’s probably one of the worst times in history for somebody to ascend to the Presidency because you’re just going to be blamed for everything.”
Republicans may be laying on that blame. Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. said Obama has fulfilled his promise of hope and change.
“If he stopped even 1,000 jobs a month hemorrhage, we’re better off," Jackson said. "If he stopped us from a global banking collapse we’re better off; if Americans now are covering for preexisting conditions, we’re better off.”
Still, State Sen. Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills), who used to play poker with Obama in Springfield, said there is a different atmosphere heading into this election compared with four years ago, in Denver, when Obama accepted his party’s nomination for president the first time.
“You’re never going to have another 2008," Link said. "I don’t think I will live long enough to see one, I don’t think anybody will live long enough to see 2008. Because it was not only for Illinois people, but for the whole nation. We elected the first African American president. A younger President. And that was able to change states that never were a Democratic column before.”
So what happened?
“Now what you’re seeing is the economy was just terrible," Link added. "They’re finding out Congress isn’t working with the President. They’re finding out racism isn’t over.”
Convention organizers in Charlotte are still trying to cultivate a festival-like atmosphere. At one pre-convention bash, the band Chairman of the Board got media types and vendors dancing to the “Carolina Shuffle” Downtown Charlotte is full of energy as delegates party-hop before their official duties begin.
Nicole Betourney, 34, and Sarah Bigler, 26, are both first time delegates for Illinois. They were were thrilled to take time to stand outside “Blue” – a bar and restaurant at a relatively busy intersection in Charlotte’s financial district - to talk about their experience at a private party held by Speaker of the Illinois House – and Chairman of the state Democratic Party - Michael Madigan.
Betourney and Bigler are part of the key demographic that helped Obama claim victory in 2008 - the youth vote. They are still enthusiastic about Obama.
“Yes this is my first convention it’s so exciting,” Betourney said.
“It is, I’m actually the first person in my family to get involved in politics," Bigler noted. "I remember watching the results come in for President Clinton when I was like ten years old.”
Betourney is from Palos Heights, and from a politically connected family. She brushes off the suggestion that younger voters won’t turn out for Obama this time around.
“All of my friends are extremely pumped and they support the President 100% and they’re very excited that I’m here!” Betourney said.
Bigler just graduated from Eastern Illinois University, with a degree in political science. For her, watching Obama and his dealings with Congress has been an education in itself.
“We realize that politics isn’t always about getting what you want and it’s not always about the big flashy conventions, the big flashy debates," Bigler said. "It’s a real process it’s about debating with Congress, it’s about laying out what you want, but also always having to compromise.”
Bigler said she cannot say that the youth vote will come out as strong for Obama as in ‘08.
“But I do think there’s enough of us that we’ll be still excited for him," she said. "He’s still our president and there’s enough of us that are still involved enough. It does affect our future too and I think that still resonates with a lot of us."
For delegate Moises Garcia, 28, of Chicago’s western suburbs, being a Democrat is a point of pride because his father was a steelworker on Chicago’s South Side.
Garcia said when he was growing up, his parents would often talk politics, and some of that rubbed off on him. He is not a politician, but he does volunteer for campaigns when he’s not working at a water softener assembly plant. He said even though being at the convention means he misses a week of work, it is still worth it.
"Traveling to North Carolina for five days is a small price in order to move things forward and get people elected who we want to see in office and people that represent me and the working class," Garcia said.
But Garcia adds that it’s what comes after the convention that matters most: hitting the streets and knocking on doors to turn out voters.
Just as those younger voters have grown up some, and aged some … so has Obama. Visibly, yes – there are those gray hairs. But Washington Post reporter David Mariniss, author of a memoir about Obama’s own youth, said it is not just that the times have changed. He said Obama has changed, too.
“He evolves himself," Mariniss said. "Some politicians never change and just become more so, and I think that Barack Obama, after studying his life, you can see that he actually learns from his mistakes and learns from what’s he’s done before, so I think he’s constantly in that sense evolving and growing.”
The question, Marinass said, is whether he will get a second term to show that change.
Meanwhile, the last Republican Presidential nominee said Mitt Romney needs to humanize himself if he wants to defeat President Obama in the November election.
Four years ago, it was Arizona Senator John McCain who was trying to beat Barack Obama for the Presidency.