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  • rajKBy Raj Kannappan, Conservative Activist at Cornell University

    On a conference call last Thursday, January 12 with student leaders from around the country, Ronnie Cho, Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement (OPE), laid out the White House’s plan for engaging college students, part of the 18 to 29 age group which played a significant role in electing President Obama in 2008.

    Cho revealed his message to student leaders—presumably, most are supporters of the administration—on the call: “We have one year to continue to build momentum.” With the pangs of 2012 on the minds of White House officials, it is clear why the administration has largely failed in its promises to America’s youth. 

    Summer Jobs+

    First on the agenda was the Obama administration’s launching of a summer jobs initiative. Apparently, the Department of Labor (DOL)—the one which has thus far been feeble in alleviating unemployment—will, by the start of summer, provide approximately 250,000 “internships, jobs, and mentorship opportunities” for youth through partnerships with private companies and government agencies.

    summerjobsSurely, students should eagerly welcome this boon amidst a sluggish economy. But it’s not that simple. The OPE has conveniently left out the frivolous detail that this initiative actually does little to put America’s young people to work. Rather, many of the jobs being advertised by the DOL already exist in the private sector. Additionally, only 70,000 of the 180,000 job commitments the White House claims to have from private companies are paid positions.

    Americans should certainly be elated that the White House has finally realized the value that private companies such as JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, as well as others, provide to the economy. And it’s fine that the White House has “created” these opportunities for youth. But what the young people of this country need is not an endless stream of “career enhancements” and “job shadowing opportunities,” but an environment to get concrete jobs which provide paychecks—however meager—and allow them to help their families better cope with the depressing economy.

    Townhall Tour

    Cho then discussed a series of 15 to 20 OPE townhall meetings that will take place across the country following the president’s State of the Union address on January 24. The stated goal of these meetings, some of which will include Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, is to recognize youth who have furthered the cause of social justice and engage them on issues such as clear air and water, the DREAM Act, and energy security—in other words, issues which can persuade youth once again to support the administration in 2012.

    National Campus Leadership Council

    Third on the agenda was discussion of the National Campus Leadership Council (NCLC), which, according to its website, is “a non-partisan, student-led initiative to engage an historically large network of student leaders to educate the White House and policymakers on how potential or existing policy affect college students around the country.” I would suggest that the NCLC educate the White House on the disastrous youth unemployment level—18.1%, according to the most recent DoL statistics from July of 2011. Of course, far worse off are the likes of Spain and Greece, which have otherworldly high youth unemployment nearing 50%. But do we really want to see what that level of unemployment does to youth, especially after experiencing the hysterics of the Occupy Wall Street movement?

    oanclcI do not suppose that even a handful of the student leaders in the NCLC, if that, have the gumption to seriously challenge the White House on its policy failures, from refusing to use America’s natural gas reserves to put hundreds of thousands of people to work to avoiding the tough decisions that come with entitlement reform, even after Social Security began running permanent budget deficits. The NCLC would be better served not cozying up to the Obama administration, but instead holding it accountable.  

    Success and Failure

    Cho concluded the conference with a rallying call, asserting that the administration’s signature achievement was getting the healthcare bill passed, as it apparently provides healthcare to 2.5 million new individuals. He also added that the Obama administration most regrets not fulfilling its promise to pass the DREAM Act.

    Maybe what the president should most regret at a time of national economic hardship is not having his priorities in order. Nor is the DREAM Act the worst of this administration’s failed promises.

    What about the White House’s attempts to make good on Obama’s promises of unprecedented transparency? What about the president’s creation of the supercommittee on deficit reduction, which met behind closed doors to attempt to solve the country’s financial crisis? Other than the sad reality that the supercommittee was one of the worst ideas to come out of Washington, it also kept the American people on the sidelines, instead providing enormous power to 12 members of Congress, the institution which now has a pathetic disapproval rating of 83%. And the president’s campaign pledge to hold healthcare negotiations live on C-SPAN? All but eager fodder for watchdog groups.

    As the year progresses, it will become clearer whether college students are buying into the administration’s wily communications strategy or second-guessing their allegiances to the White House. 

    Raj Kannappan is a Foundation activist at Cornell University.  

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