Young people have consistently been a source of frustration and struggle for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Along with her husband, Bill Clinton, her campaign has expressed a condescending view of millennials for supporting Bernie Sanders instead of her.
The tone of comments about young people supporting Sanders is striking, given the fact that Clinton had a similar problem winning over young people when she ran against President Barack Obama in 2008. Then, Clinton and her campaign largely refrained from lecturing or talking down to young people. That is not the case in the 2016 presidential election.
With the primary race entering its final phase, which includes states where Sanders could do very well, the smug attitude of the Clinton campaign could continue to inspire young people to redouble their efforts and work all that much harder for a contested convention. Or, it could solidify young people’s understandable decision to vote for a third party candidate or not vote at all in the general election.
In early April, Hillary Clinton declared, “I feel sorry for the young people who believe” the lies Sanders is telling them about money accepted from executives and lobbyists tied to the fossil fuel industry. Young people “don’t do their own research.” Her comment was in response to a young Greenpeace activist, whose question actually was based in facts.
Bill Clinton joked on April 15 that young Sanders supporters would “shoot every third person on Wall Street” if Sanders was elected. Of course, if anyone finds this funny, it is because they believe Sanders has left-wing supporters who would only be satisfied with Wall Street reform that involved murdering corporate executives responsible for fraud and other forms of corruption.
The former president dismissed young Sanders supporters while speaking at an event sponsored by EMILY’s List, a supporter of the Clinton campaign. “I can’t get too upset when I see how righteous all these young people are today. I think, we were probably pretty sanctimonious, too.”
On April 6, after losing the Wisconsin primary, Hillary Clinton acted as if young people supporting Sanders were going through some kind of adolescent phase. “Look, I think it’s exciting to be, in effect, protesting,” she said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I remember I did that a long time ago when I was in my twenties, and I totally get the attraction of this.”
The same day, Brian Fallon, a campaign spokesperson, appeared on MSNBC’s “The Rundown.” Fallon was asked if the campaign thought the “under 30 crowd” supporting Sanders is “out to protest against Hillary Clinton.” Fallon replied, “I bet a lot of the young people showing up to support Senator Sanders, their parents are probably voting for Hillary Clinton.” Host Savannah Guthrie reacted, “Isn’t that a little bit of condescending? Oh, it makes it seem like they’re just rebelling, those crazy kids.”
“If all the young people who claim to be disillusioned now had voted in 2010, we wouldn’t have lost the Congress, and we’d probably have our incomes back,” Bill Clinton suggested, at a campaign stop in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He essentially blamed millennials for many of the economic problems, which have inspired young voters to support Sanders over Clinton.
Young black activists protested Hillary Clinton when Bill Clinton appeared at a campaign event in Philadelphia. In response, the former president defended Clinton’s racist “superpredator” comments back in the 1990s. He also accused Black Lives Matter activists of supporting gang leaders and crack dealers, who murder the very black lives who they say matter. Bill Clinton said at an event the following day, “I know those young people yesterday were just trying to get good television, and they did.”
Earlier in the election, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright repeated a phrase she’s used before and said, “There’s a special place in hell for young women,” who do not support Hillary Clinton. When Clinton was forced to respond to this comment, she said, “Well, good grief, we’re getting offended by everything these days. Honest to goodness. I mean, people can’t say anything without offending somebody.” Clinton went on to say she admired Albright, and all Albright was saying was there is a “struggle” and “don’t be in any way lulled by the progress we’ve made.”
About the same time, Gloria Steinem, a feminist icon, was met with outrage when she appeared on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” and said, “Men tend to get more conservative because they gain power as they age. Women get more radical because they lose power as they age. They’re going to get more activist as they grow older. And when you’re younger, you think, ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.'” It was interpreted as a suggestion young women may only be supporting Sanders to hookup.
Following the Nevada caucus, Hillary Clinton displayed a conservative attitude and said to young people, “It can’t be just about what we’re going to give to you. It has to be about we’re going to build together,” as if the only reason millennials support Sanders is because they want free stuff.
Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of Hillary and Bill Clinton, has brushed aside the issue of young voters overwhelmingly supporting Sanders. “Most young people aren’t voting,” she said, and argued they represented only a small segment of the population.
But, by far, the most pervasive attitude toward young people has been that millennials supporting Sanders do so because they do not know Hillary Clinton. They also are supposedly unfamiliar with the sustained attacks from conservatives, which she has survived as a politician, and if they only knew about the source of these attacks, they would not find her so untrustworthy and dishonest.
At an Iowa forum, a young Sanders supporter asked, “It feels like there’s a lot of young people out there, like myself, who are very passionate supporters of Bernie Sanders. And I just don’t see the same enthusiasm among younger people for you. In fact, I’ve heard quite a few people my age that think you’re dishonest, but I’d like to hear from you, why you feel the enthusiasm isn’t there.”
Clinton answered, “If you’re new to politics, if it’s the first time you’ve really paid attention, you go ‘oh my gosh, look at all of this’ and say, ‘why are they throwing all of that at her?’ I’ll tell you why. Because I’ve been on the front lines of change and progress since I was your age. I’ve been fighting for kids and women and the people left out and left behind to help them make the most of their lives.”
Appearing on CNN on April 26, in the middle of the day before the day’s primary results, Emily Sussman of the Center for American Progress attempted to convert a Sanders supporter to a Clinton supporter by suggesting Clinton has endured attacks against her honesty and trustworthiness for twenty years. The reason why she has a significant favorability issue in polls and is seen as dishonest is the result of media attacks.
YahNe Ndgo, a young black woman, did not accept this argument. Ndgo highlighted Clinton’s opposition to the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which she turned around and lobbied for as secretary of state. She also noted the role Clinton’s State Department played in keeping the minimum wage at $3 per day for textile workers on behalf of Fruit of the Loom, Hanes, and Levi’s. She mentioned Clinton’s support for the illegal military coup in Honduras in 2009, which has fueled staggering levels of violence.
In other words, what the Clinton campaign refuses to accept is that most of the criticisms young voters have of Clinton, especially those who support Sanders, have nothing to do with conservative attacks pushed out into the media. Young people oppose Clinton’s history of supporting welfare repeal and policies of mass incarceration. Young people oppose her support for sending refugees back to the violence they fled from in Central American countries. Young people do not like her ties to Wall Street or the fact that she gave 82 paid speeches to corporations and other firms, including Goldman Sachs, and may have made promises to them that she’ll keep if elected president.
But young people are not simply voting for Sanders cause they are disgusted with Clinton. Millennials also support the Sanders campaign’s proposals for free college tuition, Medicare for All, and raising the minimum wage to $15.
The Clinton campaign will not meaningfully address these concerns. Instead, the campaign takes a more cynical approach—joining Snapchat and sending selfies of her “chillin in Cedar Rapids,” recruiting Lena Dunham and America Ferrera to headline events for her, appearing on Comedy Central’s “Broad City,” and paying a “music supervision agency” $9,000 to come up with a 13-song playlist for the campaign trail that would appeal to young voters.
Though Clinton has not clinched the nomination and is unlikely to win enough pledged delegates to do so before the Democratic National Convention, her campaign and the news media largely see it as inevitable that young people will support her now that Sanders is so behind in the delegate count. However, she was always expected to do well in New York and in the states that voted on April 26. Sanders will likely do well in many of the remaining state primaries. Young people are not likely to give up on Sanders, and part of the reason is because the Clinton campaign has not stopped acting like young people are stupid adolescents if they do not vote for Hillary Clinton.