- - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I was in high school during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and remember the energy bouncing off the walls as we neared Election Day. I remember random students holding up the signs “Hope” and “Change” as people drove by the school and the Obama bumper strips the “cool” kids had on their cars.

I was asked numerous times to go and make calls and knock on doors for Mr. Obama, then a senator. My teachers were unapologetic in wearing Obama shirts and giving out Obama stickers. Our own student council made posters saying “Vote Obama!” The enthusiasm was unparalleled and the energy unmatched. I realize now that my generation elevated Mr. Obama to celebrity-rockstar-superman status. He was the embodiment of all our hopes and in him we beheld the one the person we believed would fix the problems we faced.

In 2008, Mr. Obama built his legions on the shoulders of college and high school students. We wholeheartedly bought into his energetic and charismatic vision. Young people hated the Iraq War and couldn’t think of anything attractive to say about the Republican Party brand. We tended to blame George W. Bush and Republicans in Congress for just about all our troubles, so it shouldn’t have surprised anyone when younger voters turned a cold should to the GOP in 2008.

As 2012 approached, however, it was clear to me that we had been had, and I hoped for an awakening within my own age demographic. Things would be different, right? The commonly accepted belief was that Mr. Obama had over-promised and under-delivered in his first term for younger Americans. Surely younger voters would wake up to Mr. Obama’s disastrous policies, or so some of us believed.

We were wrong. The infatuation with the savior we had supported four years before lived on. The day after the first presidential debate, in which Gov. Mitt Romney actually beat President Obama, the president picked himself up and hit the campaign trail. He went back to his base, back to that fortress of liberalism, the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It was Oct. 4, 2012, and I can still hear the chants from the tens of thousands of college students who greeted Mr. Obama that day. I can remember the overflow of students flooding the streets afterwards proudly chanting “Obama! Obama!” I am still amazed at the apparently blissful ignorance the students, locked in mob-mentality unison, as they danced the night away, celebrating a “historic” visit from Mr. Obama.

In spite of all this, I still thought these young people, my peers, would come to their senses and “wake up” in the voting booth come Election Day.

I was wrong again. I simply couldn’t comprehend how an entire generation could vote for policies that seemed designed to isolate and do them harm. At the time, I could not believe that millions of young people would trade important aspects of their own freedom for free contraception and homosexual marriage or vote for a president whose policies denied them jobs and left them still dependent on their parents for food, clothing and housing.

We have paid a heavy price for our enthusiasm. Never before in modern political history has a segment of the population been so negatively and so quickly affected by the repercussion of their own political activism and decision. Millennials today are being suffocated by the growth of government. The freedoms they thought they were going to be able to enjoy have vanished under the veil of liberalism. They can’t find jobs, they are compelled to buy health care they don’t need or want with money they can’t earn, and they’re afraid to call their friends to complain because they fear the National Security Agency, like Bad Santa, is making a mega-list and checking it twice.

It is not much of an exaggeration to suggest that these 18-29 year olds who celebrated the arrival of Mr. Obama on the political scene just a few short years ago can now be viewed as political prisoners of liberalism. They are shackled with the ankle bracelet of a crippled economy that cannot and will not absorb them. In every metric, poll and measure young Americans are suffering miserably. Their “rock star” has given them high student loan debts (he said those would go away), an impossible job market (he spent a trillion dollars so they’d have work), and skyrocketing health care premiums (so they could have affordable coverage). The bright future we were all going to have in 2008 and again in 2012 is looking more and more like the backdrop for a Tim Burton movie.

Knee-deep in the middle a grueling winter, it is hard to imagine the next election, but this an election year, and that means we have a chance to make up for the mistakes of 2008 and 2012. It isn’t a presidential year where all of the charismatic energy of a particular candidate or a stark contrast between two candidates can whip up enthusiasm. It is a mundane midterm election in which so much of the real blocking and tackling of politics occurs. My generation has chance to defy historical trends, wake up and sound an “objection” this coming fall. To do that, they need to get engaged now. They need to get informed. They need to focus on substance and not style. For their past support of policies, which now bind them, the millennials need to seek redemption.

Charlie Kirk is founder and executive director of Turning Point USA.