Clinton and Other Democratic Leaders Urge Youth to Get Involved.
Some of the biggest names in Democratic politics convened yesterday to focus on what they believe is the long-term remedy to their party's woes: cultivating a new generation of activists.
Former president Bill Clinton and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) were the headliners among a host of operatives, writers and artists who gathered at the Washington Convention Center for a day-long series of speeches and panel discussions designed to energize about 600 visiting students.
"You don't have to wait until your party is in power to have an impact on life at home and around the world," Clinton told a hushed crowd, urging them to embrace grass-roots organizing. "This ain't supposed to be easy, and you have to work at it. I promise you our adversaries work at it."
The suspicion that the right is working harder at it, in fact, is what led the liberal Center for American Progress to organize the event. David Halperin, a former speechwriter in the Clinton White House and the conference's coordinator, estimated that conservative groups spend more than $35 million a year on such efforts. By contrast, he said, the left has invested comparatively little effort or money in cultivating the next generation of activists and would-be leaders.
In general, colleges have long been liberal bastions, with Democratic presidential candidates routinely winning the student vote and with polls indicating that professors are on average further to the left in their views than most voters. Last year, exit polls showed that Democratic nominee John F. Kerry defeated President Bush among voters between ages 18 and 29 by more than 10 percentage points -- the only age group the Massachusetts senator won.
But this traditional advantage has not been supplemented by long-term efforts to promote an ideological movement.