Jon Stewart ’84, one of the College of William and Mary’s favorite political commentators, has grown increasingly frustrated with the current political situation. A column in The Washington Post noted the recent slew of zings on The Daily Show, Stewart’s television program, directed at President Barack Obama. On his Jan. 27 show, Stewart sounded off on the democratic leader for “flipping on the right-turn blinker” in an attempt to find the political center.
“What Obama leftist agenda are you running from? Guantanamo? Still open. Gays in the military closet? Still closed. Afghanistan troop surge,” Stewart said. “The only vaguely progressive action taken by this administration is an increase in government spending to stimulate us out of recession. That seems to be the sum total of our leftist swing.”
Back in November 2008, the youth vote certainly played a large part in propelling Obama toward the White House. According to a Flat Hat online survey conducted for the election, 68 percent of students supported Obama and 27 percent supported Sen. John McCain. Only 1.86 percent of the students surveyed were not registered to vote.
Since then, student political opinion at the College has seemed to change only slightly, and, according to some, political interest and involvement on both sides of the aisle has only increased.
Recently, the College’s Young Democrats Club followed their first meeting of the semester with a viewing of Obama’s first State of the Union address. President Ross Gillingham ’10 described the event as highly successful, with about 35 to 40 people in attendance and an enthusiastic and excited mood from the majority.
“Well, certainly there were some people concerned with what he would say after the Massachusetts election, but he really connected with the audience,” Gillingham said. “He spoke about college grants and about job creation, which is important to those of us graduating. A lot of people were joking at points when [Speaker of the House Nancy] Pelosi blanked a lot or [Vice President Joe] Biden seemed to clap at the wrong point. But people were generally rapt with attention when Obama spoke. The one concern was the length, particularly after a long day of classes and meetings, but people for the most part wanted to see the whole thing, to see [Gov. Bob McDonnell’s] response.”
A few students have become a little more tempered in their enthusiasm. Beau Wright ’11, a member of the Young Democrats, admits feeling some disappointment regarding the president’s performance since his election.
“It’s been hard seeing him in office, watching my expectations die a little,” Wright said. “But he governs the way I like, which is cautious. Still, I feel he hasn’t been forceful, he hasn’t pushed hard enough. I feel he’s wimped out a little.”
Some students did not expect immediate change in the White House, regardless of which candidate was elected.
“I didn’t think things would change entirely in Washington,” Gillingham said. “I just felt that [Obama] had the best chance to bring people together and pass meaningful legislation, and I still do.”
Obama’s tenure in office, coupled with the democratic majority in C0ongress, has helped to inspire activism in conservative students as well. College Republican’s Chairman Thomas Chappell ’11 says that the organization has been growing, and roughly 60 people attended the first meeting of this semester.
“We’re at an all-time high as far as enthusiasm and numbers,” Chappell said. “Especially after the McDonnell election [win] last semester, and the tea party rally that happened last spring.”
Chappell feels that over the past two years, students have become more comfortable openly identifying as politically conservative.
“We were very splintered,” he said. “But since then, more and more people are willing to speak.”
Despite growing numbers on the republican side, Wright said he and his fellow democrats are still firm believers in the Obama administration.
“I think most people still in the club rally behind our president,” Gillingham said. “Otherwise they would probably stop coming.”
Yet even with midterm elections coming up this year, some students have noticed that the political fervor of 2008 is not returning.
“Last November, it was cool to vote for Obama; it was the hip thing to do, so people got involved for the social aspect,” Wright said. “Midterm [elections] are definitely not as sexy.”
Omar Farid ’10, vice president of the Young Democrats, noted that for young voters, some of the appeal of politics has died out. Young Democrats’ numbers have dropped from 115 members last fall, but the club remains optimistic. He listed several of events that the organization has planned, from bringing guest speakers to attending conventions.
“I think a lot of us are frustrated because we expected too much,” Farid said. “The system is set up for people to collaborate slowly. But I think people will be as enthusiastic as ever come election time in 2012. I really had no morale left after the Massachusetts election, but a lot of members of the Young Democrats were riled up and applauding at our viewing of the State of the Union address.”
Not all the politically minded citizens share this optimism. In the same Jan. 27 episode, Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi presented a new mascot for the Democratic Party to replace the Donkey: “Presenting the [Democratic National Committee] possum: it says, ‘you can’t hurt us anymore, because we’re already dead.’”