Obama missed chance to connect at Twitter town hall

But all jokes aside, I was surprised to see Obama miss an incredible chance to address issues that speak directly to Millennials, especially youth of color, who flock to Twitter’s open platform in larger percentages than their white counterparts (Pew research shows that 25% of African-Americans on the Internet use Twitter). Instead, Obama recycled mainstream political talking points about the debt ceiling and tax increases, missing a huge opportunity to pluck the heartstrings of the countless young Americans who have been deeply affected by the economic recession. In fact, Twitsprout highlighted that Obama spent more time discussing a question about privatizing the space program than he did talking about college debt. Sadly, his inability to come down from 40,000 feet prevented him from inspiring many of those responsible for putting him in the White House in 2008, and the people who believe most in the power of technology to change lives.

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Even though Obama’s typically cool self came off unscripted and relaxed, in 2012 he won’t be able get through on swagger alone. The extraordinary 25 percent youth unemployment rate is the highest it’s been since the 1940's, and is definitely not the type of change young Americans turned out for in 2008. With no end to their economic woes in sight, young voters have grown wary of Barack. They aren't lining up to volunteer for his re-election campaign like they were four years ago. They feel ignored by the administration, and last Wednesday's town hall, seen by many as a chance for the "old Barack" to come back out, looked like more of the same old same.

Perhaps President Obama no longer believes he needs young people to get elected. In the last several months, the former community organizer has teamed up with corporate bigwigs from multinational conglomerates like G.E. and UBS. No longer the “fat cats and bankers” he once scolded, Obama’s new clique of "homeboys" don't have to worry that the first black president is going to “redistribute” their wealth and shut down Wall Street. And while he took flack for spearheading health care reform, Obama has now all but won over white (male) independents who are unlikely to vote for any of the Republicans currently lining up against him. With new friends in high places, Obama and his team of political strategists might feel untouchable.   

But the president should avoid the pitfall of assuming the youth vote is in his pocket. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook keep Millennials connected and informed in ways no other generation could imagine. Part of this connection is the expectation of accountability - our actions are public, and mistakes can't be covered up. As the economy continues to sputter, the young people hit hardest by the recession are increasingly wondering aloud if the civic process works for them. Last week's Town Hall could have been Obama's chance to respond. While teaming up with corporate CEOs might be a winning strategy for job creation, Obama is not taking the time to address his young constituents' concerns. Colorlines recently pointed out that the unemployment rate among American men of color was comparable to Egypt's prior to the revolution. Even though I believe that we will likely not see massive youth uprisings like those in the Arab and African world, I do believe that millions of unemployed youth are dangerously close to giving up on their country, and their president. If that happens, I truly believe that next year, we could see a bigger drop-off among young voters than was experienced between 1992 and 1996. The web 2.0 term for it is "opting out." Young people are that fed up. 

Even if Obama is able to get elected without the support of young people, his lack of vision and leadership could have a drastic impact on the generation's ability to Win the Future. Sociologists have repeatedly underscored how chronic unemployment has devastating effects on job seekers' career trajectory, not to mention their psychological well-being. Unlike some demographics, most young people don't blame Obama for our economic crisis. But we need help. And last week, what we imagined as an interactive dialog to rekindle hope became one more press conference's tired talking points.  

So while Obama may continue to adopt new tools to communicate with the American people, his inability to connect with the nation's most vulnerable shows that you can be connected to something as popular as Twitter and still be off-message. 

Biko Baker is executive director of The League of Young Voters. Find him online at TheLeague.com or 99Problems.org. Follow him on Twitter @TheLeague99.



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