Monday, February 22, 2016

Milennials support Bernie because of what they've seen, and what they haven't seen

Lots of people are trying to explain why millennials like Bernie Sanders so much. Some of the explanations are terrible. But the truth is simple. Democratic millennials and their elders are responding to what they've lived through in a rational and well-intentioned way.

The two most formative political events in millennials' lifetimes are the Iraq War and the global financial crisis. So it's no surprise that their favored candidate voted against the war and defines himself as an enemy of Wall Street. They're understandably skeptical of a candidate who supported the war for way too long and receives large donations from the financial services industry. And since the scary overseas enemy of their time was Islamic fundamentalism, not a radical left-wing government, they're not so hesitant to vote for a self-described socialist.

All of this is perfectly reasonable, especially regarding Hillary Clinton's longtime support for the Iraq War. Millennials are understandably astonished that the Democratic Presidential nomination might go to someone who voted for the greatest foreign policy catastrophe of their lifetimes and spent a decade claiming that it was the right thing to do. Someone like that could trundle along in a red-state Senate seat, but in a blue state constant primary challenges would be warranted. The networks of pro-war foreign policy advisors they bring with them need to be kept out of power. This is why I gave Mazie Hirono $1000 to keep Iraq War supporter Ed Case from getting the Democratic Senate nomination in Hawaii. Iraq War supporters who didn't recant quickly are a threat to us all.

As for the economic issues -- I'm not optimistic that Bernie will actually be able to achieve any of his economic agenda with a Republican House and if Chuck Schumer is Senate Democratic leader. But millennials are right to see him as an ally against the economic forces that ruined the economy just when they were looking for entry-level jobs. And with the Cold War 27 years dead, their view that a self-described socialist could become President isn't implausible.

Their elders remember Newt Gingrich's Republican Party seizing control of Congress in 1994. The Clinton White House held firm against him through a 22-day government shutdown and saved the majority of the American social welfare infrastructure that he was threatening. Bill Clinton won re-election, while Gingrich's career collapsed in a futile effort to impeach him. It's not that everything went perfectly -- welfare reform was a loss. But it's a small loss compared to the broad cuts in Medicare and other social programs that Gingrich wanted, and which a Republican President who won in 1996 would've supported.

The Clintons' victory against the Republicans under circumstances likely to resemble the next Presidential term provides the best reason for choosing Hillary to do the same job again. She may not have been President herself, but she was at the core of the White House decision-making process, and no possible candidate is more experienced than her at dealing with the political challenges we're going to face. With Congressional district maps squarely against us, it's essential that our nominee be able to play good defense all the way through re-election, and Hillary is our best pick for doing that.

There's much more than this, of course. The abuse hurled at Hillary over those years, from bizarre conspiracy theories that had her ordering assassinations to the brutish misogyny of Rush Limbaugh, created a deep bond between her and ordinary Democratic voters. I don't think that such bonds are a good basis for voting decisions, which is why I emphasize her role in operating the White House as the main argument for her. But the thing about millennials is that they're too young to remember any of this or have formed these bonds. The youngest voters in this election won't remember Bill Clinton winning an election, because they weren't alive the last time he did.

Born in 1980, I'm at the millennial / Gen-X cusp. (I identify more with millennial earnestness than Gen-X sarcasm.) I was very interested in politics during the Clinton years and followed the budget battles as closely as any high school kid could. From the perspective of the 1990s, I can feel good about putting Hillary Clinton in the White House. From the perspective of the Bush years, I feel much better about Bernie Sanders.

Ultimately, I expect that I'll make my best electability calculation when I vote on March 7, and decide on that basis. I don't know yet what the result of that calculation will be, and I'm still undecided. The Supreme Court situation raises the stakes, making any Democrat far superior to any Republican. But if this post leaves you with any insight on the Democratic primary, let it be this: whether you support Clinton or Sanders, the people on the other side are being more reasonable than they're getting credit for.