Opinion: Was it something she said?

By Evan Leahy

As November’s Presidential election continues to draw closer, the tone of the race between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination continues to intensify. Partially, this is due to frustration in Clinton’s campaign with the ever-growing popularity gap among younger left-leaning voters, and particularly among young women. Clinton’s campaign is struggling to attract and maintain the youth vote and, if something doesn’t change soon, the rest of the year may prove to be frustrating for a political image that is so desperate to be liked.

Bernie Sanders’ initial popularity among the youngest voter demographics was not particularly surprising. Outspoken idealists are fairly consistent favorites among the youth vote. What is noteworthy, however, is the fact that this gap is growing quickly and consistently and that women aged 18-29 preferred Sanders to Clinton 6 to 1 in the Iowa caucuses earlier this month. That’s not a slight preference. That’s a landslide.

Gloria Steinem did Clinton no favors with her assessment on Real Time with Bill Maher that many young women were showing support for Sanders because “that’s where the boys are,” suggesting that young women’s political leanings were somehow tied to gaining the favor or approval of their male counterparts. While Steinem has issued several statements apologizing for what she said, the statement was consistent with the often insultingly tone-deaf version of reality pitched by many Clinton supporters.

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s imposing and presumptuous warning that there’s a “special place in Hell for women who don’t help each other” completely trivializes decisions made by female voters. It is an unabashed announcement that the Clinton campaign assumes female Democrats will vote their way based on gender and gender alone. Clinton was given a chance at the Feb. 11 Democratic Debate to distance herself from Albright’s statement, which she chose to ignore, instead offering the completely non-committal and ambiguous observation that “we still have some barriers to knock down.”

What Clinton’s campaign doesn’t seem to be recognizing is that these sidesteps and other forms of political opportunism are exactly the kinds of things that completely alienate her from entire generations of people in this country. Her chameleon act of unfathomably carefully measured responses and her absolute mastery of the art of misdirection are precisely that make her indiscernible from any other career politician. Being a female presidential candidate alone isn’t going to make up for the credibility that loses with younger voters.

Not to belabor this point, but if an 80-year-old man with a lifelong career in politics said something to the tune of “be good little girls and vote the way you’re told,” the world would be rightfully calling for his head on a pike. While it’s not exactly the same thing, when Madeline Albright says something strikingly similar to this and Hillary Clinton chooses to respond with a booming, uproarious, nodding laugh, Clinton’s campaign can hardly be surprised when they experience a backlash.

It is difficult for millennials to see Hillary Clinton as a real person or clearly defined entity outside the context of carefully groomed Washington politics, which leads to some significant issues when trying to trust her. She’s been part of the national political landscape for almost 25 years, measuring from Bill Clinton’s Presidential Nomination in 1992. Clinton’s continued emphasis on her own gender eventually becomes a disservice to herself once voters perceive that’s all that is different about her and that she is just as easily bought as anyone else.

Clinton’s campaign has been careful to distance her image from Wall Street money and the support of a Super PAC, saying at the Feb 11 debate that the PAC had chosen to give her campaign support and that it was an organization that initially formed to support Pres. Obama in the first place. While this may all be true, what it doesn’t explain is why the same funding organization is coming to her aid or what they might expect in return.

Sanders response to Clinton’s distancing and equivocation was to “not insult the intelligence of the American people,” continuing, “people aren’t dumb,” and that the reasons financial firms and pharmaceutical companies make massive campaign contributions were obvious. This simple expression of the tiniest shred of confidence in the deductive reasoning abilities of the American public goes a long way with millennials.

Younger voters are generally concerned about the way crushing student debt, systemic inequality and deceptive political practices intersect, which is a complicated and nuanced set of priorities with which the Clinton campaign may have to be more creative in their pandering in order to connect.

Clinton tried to respond to her unpopularity in polls with young female voters in the debate by saying that her real goal was to ensure that all people get to determine who the best candidate is for them, even if it isn’t her. The good news for her is that, qualms one might have with the entire electoral college system aside, Hillary Clinton can rest easy knowing that everyone will get to cast their own vote in November. The bad news, however, is that generations of women are expressing that they feel taken for granted and insulted and that may impact how votes are cast in March, when it comes time for Washington’s Democratic Caucus.

Without a doubt, we are ready for our first woman president and we have been for some time. That does not, however, mean that any female candidate will do. Furthermore, it does women, progressive politics and the United States as a whole far more good for the first woman president of the United States to also be a president with a clearly defined platform, strong and consistent stances on issues and track record of transparency.

The Washington State Democratic Caucus is held Saturday, March 26, 2016. Anyone who will be 18 years old on or before November 8, 2016 is encouraged to participate. See WA-democrats.org for your caucus location and more information.

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