Bernie Sanders used a platform steeped in solidarity and unity to mobilize my generation in the fight for our political future. Why is the Clinton campaign unable to take note of what young progressives stand for?
Millennials were not simply attracted to Bernie Sanders’ campaign because of his promises to make public college tuition-free or to push for the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Millennials were attracted to Sanders’ campaign because, like millennials, who came of age during a period of great income inequality and seemingly incessant war, he sees politics not as a game to be played between Democrats and Republicans but as a struggle between the haves and the have-nots.
The Democratic establishment has signalled, through the nomination of perhaps the most pro-business (and anti-worker) presidential ticket in recent memory, that it cares little to understand the struggles that members of my generation face as a result of the rise of neoliberalism.
Hillary lacks understanding about the future of the Democratic Party
As Democratic delegates, elected officials, musicians, entertainers, and activists assembled over the course of the past few days in Philadelphia’s (aptly named) Wells Fargo Center for their quadrennial convention, many Democratic leaders openly tried to use this opportunity to seek unity between two wings of the Democratic Party that had become quite splintered during a long, often intense primary season where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) battled across all fifty states for the presidential nomination.
Even after most Sanders delegates laid down their fists and signs and, perhaps a bit begrudgingly, agreed to unite with the party majority under the banner of the Clinton campaign to defeat general election challenger Donald Trump (R-NY) in November, a quite large elephant (or donkey, perhaps) in the room remained: an undeniable political generation gap had developed, or perhaps simply made itself known, between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials within the party.
Inter-generational rift within the Democratic Party
In years and election cycles to come, the Democratic Party undoubtedly has a great amount of potential, with the assistance of the more liberal, millennial generation that has come of age during the Bush-Obama Era, to reclaim everything from town council seats to state legislatures to Congress itself in the not-too-distant future.
According to the Pew Research Center, voters between the ages of 18 and 29 identify with the Democratic Party over the Republican Party by a margin of roughly 1.5 to 1. The undeniable inter-generational rift within the Democratic Party, however, serves as a serious obstacle to party growth.
The progressives of my generation are far, far different, even on a purely political level, from the so-called “Boomers” who have, with age, eschewed the radicalism that once dominated their activism in favor of more “pragmatic” liberalism.
Instead of fearing a recurrence of the disastrous 1972 presidential election, where conservative Richard Nixon defeated anti-war progressive George McGovern in a landslide, members of my generation fear a continuation of the policies pushed by both the Bush and Obama administrations that have fostered apathy in all segments of the population and have contributed to the oppression of the marginalized.
We have seen the effects of the flirtation between corporate and political structures in both the 2008 stock market crash and subsequent 2010 housing market collapse, occurring after twenty years of calls for more and more financial deregulation by Democrats and Republicans alike.
We have seen the expansion of the American empire under both Democratic and Republican presidents, whether it be a full-scale invasion such as that which occurred in Iraq in 2003 or a system of secretive targeted killings in nations that have never attacked us, and we have seen the ramifications of such policy both at home and abroad.
We have seen the growth of right-wing populist demagoguery as a consequence of the Democratic Party, the party that once stood in solidarity with the working class during the toughest of times, turning its back on unions and workers in favor of financial institutions, military-industrial developers, and transnational corporations.
For this reason, amongst other, more subtle ones, the children of the Bush-Obama era overwhelming endorsed a new path for the Democratic Party during the 2016 Democratic primaries in the form of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, whom voters under thirty voted for more often than Clinton and Trump combined.
Sanders represents a new era of politics
Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist (though truly a social democrat/”welfare capitalist” of the John Maynard Keynes or Franklin D. Roosevelt economic school), ran on a platform based on limiting military intervention, reining in corporate power at home and abroad, making education and healthcare affordable to all, and putting an end to what he called “gross income inequality.”
To a radical, Sanders may have sounded like little more than a slightly more progressive Democrat who didn’t nearly go far enough into analysis of the structures inherent in a globalized America that encourage the exploitation of the working class.
However, to a generation that has seen the American “left” dismiss any sense of grand reform in the name of pragmatism since the Republican Revolution of 1994, Sanders represented a new era of politics that naturally came about following the post-Citizens United rejection of corporate influence in politics by progressive Democrats.
When Hillary Clinton was declared the presumptive Democratic nominee on June 6 after reaching, with superdelegates taken into account, the threshold needed to secure the nomination, Sanders supporters were understandably dismayed.
Hillary Clinton: More of the Same?
Hillary Clinton, to many, represents the very New Democrat Coalition that had put Bill Clinton and Barack Obama into office, arguably at the expense of the working class.
Clinton’s previous support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, suspected ties to corporations such as JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, long-lasting opposition to raising the federal minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour, and hawkish foreign policy record (often euphemistically dismissed as “smart power”) have all contributed to a general sense of mistrust and unease amongst the progressive members of Generation Y.
Many of us, though, were quick to accept the reality and hoped that, instead of making a dash to the political center during the general election to appeal to disenchanted Republicans as she indicated she would do, Secretary Clinton would take the time to listen to the desires of the left.
Miscalculation in Choosing a Running Mate
Before her running mate was announced, many young members of what’s been called the “Warren wing” of the Democratic Party, skeptical of corporate influence and in favor of unabashed progressivism that doesn’t succumb to the abstract idea of “compromise,” believed that Clinton could signal an openness to progressive influence in the party by picking a more left-leaning figure to serve as her running mate. With names such as Al Franken, Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and Cory Booker appearing at times on her short-list, many had hope that the movement inspired by Sanders that had engaged so many young people would continue throughout the general election.
Then, to the shock of many and to the pleasure of the centrist wing of the party, Clinton, in late July, announced her choice for running mate: Tim Kaine (D-VA), a current U.S. Senator and former Governor of Virginia.
With that one move, Clinton demonstrated a crucial misunderstanding about the future of the very party which she had built her career on.
My generation doesn’t believe that playing it safe during an electoral cycle will most benefit those facing oppression; rather, we believe that it takes a champion of progressive populism, backed by strong, mobilized grassroots activists, to fight exploitation.
Clinton understandably chose Kaine to serve as her running mate because he is, for all intents and purposes, a “safe pick;” after all, he hails from the electorally strategic swing state of Virginia, and his conservative, folksy demeanor will definitely help Clinton appeal to so-called “Never Trump” Republicans leading up to November. However, if Clinton’s long-term goal is to develop a meaningful, inter-generational coalition within the Democratic Party to solidify its base for decades to come, she miscalculated greatly.
The Kaine Mutiny: Ignoring Why Millennials Loved Sanders
Senator Kaine’s record is frankly troubling to members of a generation who just months ago were empowered to fight for our future by tackling the corporate influence that has permeated the political sphere in recent years.
We flocked to the Sanders campaign not because of the allure of “free college” or because we’re “lazy,” as many on both the left and right often called us; rather, the Sanders campaign caught our attention because we’ve grown up in a political environment marked by governmental inaction motivated by corporate meddling.
On issues of trade, finance, and labor, Kaine doesn’t even bother to attempt to convince members of my generation that he represents the values we’ve fought for and defended in the face of reckless deregulation and neoliberal globalization. For example, merely days before being named Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Kaine was a signatory on two letters that called for bank deregulation — one to help big banks avoid risk management regulations and another to help small banks utilize loopholes in consumer protection standards.
Furthermore, Kaine has been a prominent supporter of so-called “right-to-work” laws, particularly in his home state of Virginia. Such laws serve to remove the opportunity for collective bargaining in the workplace by placing limits on the National Labor Relations Act. Kaine has called Virginia’s own right-to-work law a “law [he] strongly support[s],” and PolitiFact Virginia states that “ Even the group that seeks to expand these laws [the National Right to Work Foundation] concedes Kaine did few things that troubled them.”
To my generation, one that felt empowered by a candidate who echoed Franklin Roosevelt when he said that “a job should lift workers out of poverty, not keep them in it,” the selection of a vice-presidential candidate who supports weakening the power of labor unions in workplace disputes is questionable at best.
Moreover, Clinton’s choice to add Kaine to her ticket demonstrates a misunderstanding about just how threatening free-trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership — which, as recently as July 21, Kaine, one of thirteen Democratic senators who voted to grant President Obama “fast-track” authority on the deal, praised — are to my fellow millennials. Young Americans are already having a tough time finding work; 20% of 16-19 year-olds and 12.4% of 20-24 year olds remain unemployed (not to mention the nearly two million young people who have stopped looking for work altogether). Globalization and trade deals have resulted in the loss of 6.8 million American jobs, and the average American household loses at least $2,560 a year in income due to a downward pressure on benefits and wages stemming from outsourcing.
To a generation of Democrats who had only weeks before seen the end of a campaign that made further regulation of predatory financial institutions and transnational corporations a cornerstone of its platform, Clinton’s decision to choose Kaine felt like nothing short of a spit in the face by the Democratic Party. To a generation drowning in student debt, unable to find work, and struggling to find affordable housing, Clinton’s decision to choose Kaine felt like nothing short of a spit in the face by the Democratic Party.
An Uncertain Future
We have seen the effects of the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, the passage of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. We have seen unnecessary, bloated increases to military budgets matched with cuts to healthcare and education spending. We have seen how tax cuts for the rich have led to an increased burden on an already suffering working class. We have seen how even the most well-meaning reforms to our healthcare system have benefitted not those in need of healthcare but rather insurance companies and their shareholders.
My generation came of age in an era where politicians on both the left and the right have seemed more concerned in appealing to corporate donors and lobbyists than to the needs of marginalized constituents.
To my generation, the largest split in American politics isn’t between Democrats and Republicans; the biggest split is between, to use one of Senator Sanders’ favorite phrases, the 99% and the 1%.
Clinton, already a candidate with a record that points to corporate concession, has signalled to my generation, particularly through her choice of Tim Kaine to serve as her running mate, that she truly doesn’t understand why Bernie Sanders’ campaign mobilized by generation to fight against the political “establishment.” Rather, it appears that Clinton intends to continue on the path of neoliberalism that dominated the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama alike. While this strategy may be effective in pulling older, more “pragmatic” voters into the fold, this risky game could spell danger for the Democratic Party in the near future.