Lingering around a dining hall table after dinner one October evening, a group of Kirkland seniors recalls Election Day, 2008. For Talia B. Lavin ’12, what defined that November night was the euphoria.
“We ran around in the streets, watching the election results,” she says. “I called them joy riots at the time. We stopped the traffic, jumped up on cars ...” Her friends laugh. “... OK, maybe didn’t jump up on cars.”
Anne Y. Polyakov ’12 agrees about the atmosphere. “There were lots of drunk people,” she adds.
“I was putting off my Chinese homework to watch all this,” adds Jeffrey M. Epstein ’12.
The political discussion turns to the present day.
“I think a lot of people are disillusioned with Obama,” says Lavin. “He promised to be a promoter of change.”
“He did some things ...” begins Polyakov. Lavin interrupts, “We didn’t elect him as a compromiser.”
“That might be because we misunderstood him,” Joanna Y. Li ’12 counters. “Was it possible to have done any of this right?”
“It’s hard to misunderstand hope, change,” says Lavin. “I was really gung-ho, and now ...” She trails off. The conversation stops.
It’s a natural pause in tracing the trajectory of the current president, from his 2008 campaign and election to the current state of the union. Not all Harvard students supported Obama in 2008. Not all who did are disappointed with him now. But in a Crimson poll a week before the election, 82 percent of students indicated that they intended to vote for Obama, and 11 percent that they intended to vote for McCain.
In this sense, Harvard reflects a broader national trend. Shortly after taking office, Obama had an 84 percent approval rating among voters ages 18 to 29. By this past August the figure was 52 percent. Last week, a Democracy Corps poll had the rating at 40 percent.
That things have changed is undeniable. It’s a change from which the student body has not been exempt. Three years ago Cambridge residents and Harvard students took to the streets, making traffic stop, singing the national anthem. Those who were freshmen then are about to graduate. Today, near the end of an administration, doubts have appeared about Obama in his supporters, necessitating a new way of negotiating the divide between Obama and us.
Lavin classes herself among the disillusioned. The 2008 election was the first in which she could vote. Initially, she saw Obama as a chance for a “clean slate.”
“During the Bush era we’d had the continual expansion of the power of the presidency, and the pretty egregious violations that came with that,” says Lavin. “There was the sense that Obama ... would actively dismantle that structure.”