Caroline Kennedy's three teenagers began working on her last year. "They were the first people who made me realize that Barack Obama is the President we need," the daughter of John F. Kennedy told an audience in Washington on Jan. 28. Her decision, joined by her uncle Senator Edward Kennedy, to place her father's mantle on Obama's shoulders was both a boost to Obama and a rebuke to the Clintons.
Frustrated by feckless Washington, energized by the unscripted, pundit-baffling freedom of a wide-open race, young people are voting in numbers rarely seen since the general election of 1972 — the first in which the voting age was lowered to 18. Obama is both catalyst and beneficiary. In state after state, he has drawn more young voters than any of his competitors. For a group of voters with no memory of a time before Bushes and Clintons, Obama is a fresh face. His opponents promise to fight, but Obama promises healing. His is the language of possibility, which is the native tongue of the young. And if he happens to be light on details — well, what are details but the dull pieces of disassembled dreams? "I had a friend tell me this was impossible, quoting all these political-science statistics at me to show that it's hopeless to try to organize students," says Michelle Stein, 20, media coordinator for Obama's youth campaign in Missouri. "Now he says, 'You were right, I was wrong. Where do I sign up?'"