President Obama told a packed arena at the University of Maryland that he needs young people to propel health care reform just as they propelled him to the presidency. So far they've been slackers.
"Just like the change that began in our campaign," he told them, "it starts with people -- especially young people."
Those Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 handed Obama two-thirds of their votes in the 2008 presidential election. About 45 percent of them identified as Democrats last year, compared with only 27 percent as Republicans, and most polls show the majority favor Obama's far-reaching reform proposals.
But while they give pollsters the nod of approval, the issue has remained low on young people's lists of things to accomplish. Most have yet to face serious health problems or stagnant paychecks as premiums rise. During the 2008 election, health care was a distant fourth on a Pew poll's measure of 18- to 29-year-olds "most important problems," garnering only 9 percent of respondents.
They weren't alone near election-time -- the economy was the No. 1 issue for all age groups. But as college students spent the summertime relaxing, many of their parents and grandparents showed up to town hall meetings and took sides as the debate grew more heated.
By earlier this week, a Rasmussen poll showed support for the package proposed by the president at 44 percent of likely voters, compared with 53 percent opposed.
Obama hopes now that students might serve as the untapped resource ready to reverse the tides of apprehension and outright rage that infected his efforts over the summer months. And he took time on Thursday to remind them why he thought they should care.
"Think about adding the debt you already have for college -- on top of that, another $10,000 or $20,000 or $30,000 or $50,000 worth of debt because you get sick," Obama said.
The crowd cheered the president's idea to allow students continued coverage under their parents' health insurance until the age of 26, and to require eligibility for coverage regardless of pre-existing health conditions.
Obama commended the University of Maryland for requiring its students to have health insurance before beginning the school year, and added his pitch that all Americans should be bound to do the same.
"The speech was excellent, it was superb," said Maryland senior Kwaku Attakora. "It got me fired up about health care."