Obama’s weak “movement” coattails

The front-page of this morning’s New York Times takes readers inside the campaign of Eric Lesser, a bright-eyed 29-year-old running for an open state Senate seat in Western Massachusetts. The paper is not particularly interested, however, in state budget matters facing the Legislature, the short shrift Western Mass. residents often feel they get, or any other other issues preoccupying voters in Wilbraham or Ludlow.

The story landed in the Times because Lesser is a former Obama White House staffer, a special assistant to former Obama strategist David Axelrod, who is taking the plunge into politics. The Times‘s Jason Horowitz says that makes him an exceedingly rare breed. “For all the talk about the movement that elected Mr. Obama,” writes Horowitz, “the more notable movement of Obama supporters has been away from politics. It appears that few of the young people who voted for him, and even fewer Obama campaign and administration operatives, have decided to run for office.”

  

Horowitz writes that, unlike John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, who each inspired a whole generation of idealistic young political figures, Barack Obama “has so far had little such influence.”

He gets support in that thesis from John Della Volpe, who directs polling at Harvard’s Institute of Politics. “If you were to call it an Obama generation, there was a window,” Della Volpe says of the opening for an Obama-inspired surge of political activism.  “That opportunity has been lost.”

Sergio Bendixen, who worked as a pollster for Obama, chalks it up to the flitting ways of today’s digital natives. “They went on to the next website and then the next click on their computer. I just don’t see the generation as all that ideological or invested in causes for the long run,” he tells the paper.

But it seems a little too simplistic to say, unlike the some of the figures that preceded him, Obama has been unable to motivate a generation that seemed poised only half a dozen a years ago to embrace his call to political action. The problem just seems much bigger than merely disappointment in Obama, or the short attention span of a “social media-addled generation accustomed to instant gratification,” as Horowtiz puts it.

There is a political paralysis gripping the country, particularly in Washington, where Congress takes dozens of pointless votes to repeal the new health care law but is unable to reckon with real issues facing the country like the need for immigration reform.

The Times story mentions, but glosses over, an important pattern that has been developing for years. It cites a Della Volpe poll last year of 18-29 year olds in which 70 percent said community service was a honorable pursuit, but only 35 percent felt the same about running for office.

As seen in the growth of groups like City Year, Citizen Schools, and Teac h for America, there has been an explosion of interest among young people in work that directly tries to tackle problems and serve unmet needs . Young people may simply have less faith in efforts to try to make change through the political system.

Sadly, the dysfunction that has many of those already in office saying it’s become impossible to get anything done makes a turn away from elected office by young people look like an act of rational reasoning, not an abdication of civic responsibility.

–MICHAEL JONAS   

BEACON HILL

Catching up to a jarring observation MassINC Polling Group president Steve Koczela made more than a week ago, the Globe reports on its front-page on the woeful lack of comprehensive, real-time data on drug overdoses across the state.  Rhode Island is one state that appears to have much better data.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Mayor Marty Walsh says he supports a $4.6 million tax break that could pave the way for the first air-rights development over the Massachusetts Turnpike since Copley Place was built in the 1980s. CommonWealth profiled the project’s developer, John Rosenthal, last year.

The Eagle-Tribune reviews Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera’s first 100 days in office.

Salem is paying nothing to National Grid for its 3,548 street lights, but the city will have to assume all maintenance costs, the Salem News reports.

MARATHON ANNIVERSARY

The Globe‘s David Abel has a powerful, two-part story, yesterday and today, chronicling the lives of the Richard family of Dorchester, whose son Martin was killed by the Marathon bombing and whose daughter Jane lost her left leg.

A Boston police sergeant and a 17-year-old victim of the Boston Marathon blasts forged a bond that has endured.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

New York magazine asks what a Republican-led Senate would mean for the nascent peace deal in Washington that’s keeping the government afloat.

The Atlantic profiles New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott‘s reelection pitch begins and ends with the state’s employment numbers.

ELECTIONS

Jeanne Shaheen is so far treating Scott Brown as pesky annoyance, not a focus of her energy, a smart tactical move in the very early goings of the New Hampshire US Senate race, pundits tell the Globe. First-in-the-nation politicking is already rolling, ahead of 2016.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Retail giants Target and Walmart announced they will greatly expand their offerings of organic foods, making the sustainable groceries affordable to the masses.

Google wants to follow consumers into the mall.

EDUCATION

Jeff Riley, the state overseer of the Lawrence schools, calls for a 6 percent increase in the district’s budget, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Teachers grumble about having to pay for fingerprinting required under a new state law, the Salem News reports.

Some Brockton city officials are calling for drug testing for teachers and other school staff after several school workers were involved in selling or possessing drugs.

HEALTH CARE

Stoughton police made their first save using the nasal spray Narcan, the drug used to reverse narcotic overdoses. Last year, the town had 35 overdoses, including six that were fatal.

The Center for Medicare Advocacy says a change in regulations that results in automatic rejection for coverage for some medications for the elderly requires patients to “jump through hoops” to get payment for the drugs.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A UN panel on climate change says drastic action is required quickly to cope with greenhouse gas emissions, NPR reports. The New York Times spotlights proposals to bolster New York and New Jersey against sea level rise.

Some towns have ignored the state’s solar energy initiative for green communities and instead have launched their own programs to get residents to adopt solar energy for their homes.

Officials from FEMA will be in Fall River tomorrow to answer questions from residents and local officials about the changes in the flood zone maps and the skyrocketing premiums for flood insurance.

MEDIA    

WGBH’s investment in radio is paying dividends, which no doubt help explain why WGBH and WBUR are such fierce rivals.

Hundreds turned out over the weekend for the chance to land a role as an extra in the upcoming film Black Mass, the best-selling book chronicling the life of James “Whitey” Bulger and his alliance with the FBI.