The Difficulty with "Disillusioned"

On Tuesdays and Thursdays YOUR VOICE features political commentary from students and young professionals.

Politico ran a story last week about how the young people (that’s 18-to-29 year olds, in most polling) who helped President Obama win both his terms in the White House are “disillusioned with Obama’s tenure in office and disapprove of his handling of the country’s major issues.” According to the poll, conducted by Harvard’s Institute of politics, “54% of those surveyed disapprove of Obama’s job performance.” It’s a large drop from numbers even a year ago, in early 2013, and far lower than back in 2009.

Around the same time, The Washington Post ran an article about how very few young people say they will sign up for President Obama’s flagship policy initiative – healthcare under the Affordable Care Act – with only 29 percent saying that they will definitely or likely enroll in the exchanges. “The Affordable Care Act relies on younger, healthier people signing up for coverage to offset the costs for older, sicker Americans,” the Post reports. The White House is already concerned about the slow enrollments, and when this sluggish participation is matched with the broader sense that those 18-to-29 year olds aren’t happy with President Obama, it’s a recipe for renewed concern about young people’s engagement with politics.

POLITICO’s article included this quote by Trey Grayson, the director of the Harvard Institute of Politics: “Overcoming today’s bitter partisanship and governmental gridlock is essential to showing millennials and all our citizens that Washington, D.C. – and our democratic process – can still work and make a difference.” Indeed, the article ends by noting that only 22 percent of the people surveyed considered themselves politically engaged or politically active and 34 percent said they will definitely vote in the next midterm election (fall 2014).

President Obama speaks to college students at the University of Southern California. Photo via Neon Tommy. 

President Obama speaks to college students at the University of Southern California. Photo via Neon Tommy. 

It’s a refrain we have heard often for the past several years, with bitter battles in Congress over what seems to be every conceivable policy issue, gridlock between the White House and the Capitol, and a general feeling that Washington, DC is a place where politics goes to die, or, at the very least, become completely ineffective. Of course, Americans across the spectrum of age and other comparator factors (gender, ethnicity, etc.) have wide ranges of opinion about politics. By no means are millenials the only ones expressing dissatisfaction with President Obama or Congress.

Which begs the question, why do we need special convincing that the political process can work? Why is it that our reticence to vote, to be surveyed, to be politically engaged, drives everyone to distraction trying to understand or persuade or assuage?

At some point, being disheartened or disillusioned with politics, be it the ACA, the Congressional gridlock, the partisan speeches, or the sense that we don’t know what happens when we go to Washington, DC fails as an excuse to be disengaged. After all, the dependence of the ACA on young people’s participation would appear to give us some serious political leverage, meaning that our contact with Congress, our voting, our outspokenness in all our spheres of influence, our going to town hall meetings – would carry sway.

After all, the fact is that whether we like it or not, some of us are eventually going to have to run for office if we want to have a Congress in the next 20 years, and that someday some of us will need to run for president and others of us will need to man polling stations and direct traffic. At some point, we will have to move beyond disillusioned. I remember writing about the song about women’s suffrage - “Bad Romance Til We Have Women’s Suffrage” (by Soomo Publishing) for Capital Commentary. There, I was reminded that we bear the responsibility and the calling to uphold a just political community. Which means, if we don’t want to enroll in ACA exchanges, we should all the more plan to vote, to rally, to write letters, to run for office. It is our political community.

Being disillusioned and disengaged won’t bring justice.   

 -Hilary Sherratt is a recent graduate from Gordon College, where she majored in Religion, Ethics and Politics. She is currently working as a grant writer at Gordon, and loves all kinds of writing. She hopes to eventually get her PhD in theology or history. She blogs about everyday life at http://thewildlove.wordpress.com and tweets at @hilarysherratt