A theme that’s come up several times during Obama’s candidacy has been his appeal to young voters, and the numbers he is likely to draw in to the political process. Short-term the talk is about how this will affect the election, but the longer term implications are interesting too.
Anything that gets people involved in politics is a good thing, I think, even those things that might appear prejudiced or otherwise undesirable; challenging people’s ideas isn’t a guaranteed way of showing them that other valid ideas exist, but it’s one of the best ways. And if that involvement has been based on an inspirational figure like Obama (and whether he’s right or wrong, he’s certainly inspirational) then there’s the chance for the sort of life-long commitment that JFK inspired, and which to a lesser extent Reagan did too.
The problem I see is that Obama is a politician, and the single thing politicians do more than anything else is disappoint*. They make promises to get elected that they can’t keep. They might make these promises with the best of intentions (or not), but they’re offering things that even complete control of government won’t let them guarantee. Obama might very well have great and heartfelt intentions, but such is the adoration surrounding him that he’s likely to fail more roundly than average. Failing more because you aspire higher is nothing to be ashamed of, but when it provides the first experience many people will have of politics it has the potential to disappoint in a way that could take a generation to heal.
*This isn’t just a wild generalization – almost all politicians get voted out eventually, it’s the nature of their job