- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Liberal-leaning college students say they can Facebook and Twitter their way to a brighter, better future and are demanding that their government leaders focus their attention on the next generation.

President Obama’s aides wooed the nearly 2,000 who attended the Campus Progress National Conference last week, thanking them for their advocacy and help during the 2008 election.

The students, in turn, vowed to hold the Obama administration accountable for campaign promises on health care, the environment and human rights. They came away from the conference with an action plan that included using social networking tools to share their preferred policies and coordinate political campaigns.

Obama officials told the students they “defied all the odds” and were largely responsible for his victory last year.

“You elected the president of the United States of America, and I want to thank you for that, and America will never be the same,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Former President Bill Clinton delivered the keynote speech at the event, held last week at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in the District.

“It’s a good time to be young in America because things seem possible again,” Mr. Clinton said, adding, “America has its mojo back.”

But the former president said the students must take responsibility for helping Mr. Obama with his policy agenda.

Mr. Clinton said that in this “very different world” of diversity and the Internet generation, real change is possible and he is confident Mr. Obama will get the ambitious health care and climate-change bills he is pushing.

“The president is doing a good job, the Cabinet is doing a good job, Congress is doing a good job,” Mr. Clinton said. He added that “if they stumble,” people should “cut them some slack because these are mind-numbingly complex problems, and nobody is right all the time.”

Attendee Emily Honsa, 27, a third-year law student at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, said Mr. Clinton captured the energy at the conference.

“The change in administration was not only movement toward a fresher mind-set, but it was also empowering to those who do not belong to the class of legacy politicians, the old guard, with generations of politicians behind them,” she said.

Van Jones, a White House adviser whose portfolio includes promoting green jobs, called the group “Generation Obama.”

Miss Honsa, an intern in Washington this summer, noted that some people at the conference want to see more from the administration.

“The audience was more sophisticated than one might have assumed, [and] assumptions by Van Jones as to everyone’s support for President Obama fell flat among some at my table, because some there felt he hadn’t done enough yet,” she said.

Organizers collected action plans all day in breakout sessions on human rights, the rise of Internet media and even the future of hip-hop.

At the end of the day, they presented the most popular suggestions: to work with schools, lobby Congress and get involved in community organizations or work on a local campaign.

Students leading the day’s discussion told their peers to “unify the movement, target your message and organize strategically,” lessons learned during campaigns that they said could help catapult issues to the forefront.

Organizers also suggested working at a think tank. Campus Progress is an offshoot of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress.

Health care was a hot topic at the conference, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earned cheers when promising the students the health care reform bill that passes her chamber “will have a public option.”

But in the breakout session on health care, students used words like “betrayal” and said they hoped lawmakers and Mr. Obama won’t “sell out” their preferences for health care.

Mr. Jones said the president’s agenda is more about future generations than his own.

“You’re relying on him to get it started; he’s relying on you to get it done,” he said.

A highlight for the students was John Oliver from Comedy Central’s satiric “The Daily Show,” which many attendees described as their top source for reliable news. Mr. Oliver, a “correspondent,” seemed horrified at that prospect, telling the students his job as a “fake journalist” on the show is not to report news but “to try to make people laugh.”

Students repeatedly lauded “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, Mr. Oliver and the other mock reporters on the show for doing a public service and often giving better insight than the real press.

Mr. Oliver insisted they have no interest in doing real journalism at Comedy Central, and when pushed further, with some students insisting the “Daily Show” has more value than cable news, he said the show’s popularity is “not a compliment to us, it’s a well-aimed insult at them.”

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