A couple weeks ago Slate‘s Double X Gabfest discussed why Millennials don’t support Hillary Clinton for president in greater numbers. Something I think everyone failed to mention is when people in their late twenties to early thirties came of age.
Some of my earliest political memories are of the farce of the Clinton impeachment and the tragedy of the stolen 2000 election, which is a recipe for growing up cynical about politics.
9/11 was a few weeks into my freshman year of college, and surrounded by scared kids and people who hoped this would put the divisiveness of the election behind us, it was devastating to see how quickly it became just another tool to be exploited for political gain. It remains so to this day, with politicians still invoking 9/11 to get out of answering all manner of questions, like when Clinton was asked in the current cycle why so much of her campaign money comes from Wall Street.
Political Science became one of my majors, and I followed the lead-up to the Iraq war—one of the most disastrous blunders in American history—obsessively. Even though the rationale was so obviously made up (those who voted for it now say they were lied to, but so were the rest of us, and somehow many of us weren’t fooled), Clinton was among those who embraced it. I feel sick at the thought of someone who voted for that war in the White House.
The economy tanked in 2008, in large part due to deregulation of the banks during the Bill Clinton years, policies Hillary Clinton had supported and been rewarded for with tons of political money from Wall Street.
All of this gave Millennials plenty of reason to already distrust Clinton leading into the 2008 election, and then her campaign gave them so many more.
The 2008 election was only the second presidential election I was old enough to vote in, and while I was never as swept up in Obama mania as some (Joe Biden was my guy until he dropped out; I still fantasize about the ticket being flipped, with us coming out of eight years of Biden and a seasoned Vice President Obama now the frontrunner for the 2016 nomination), his message of hope came at a very important time for those of us who had been shaped by the compromised 90s and the nightmarish 00s. In the course of her racist, fear-mongering campaign, Clinton seemed outright hostile to that message, dismissing MLK-style activism in favor of LBJ-style politicking, and sounded like no one so much as George W. Bush when she lectured us all about how afraid we should be and only she could keep up safe. She went in the frontrunner, but when her more-of-the-same message was overcome by Obama’s charisma and argument that things could be different, she continued to viciously attack Obama after it was mathematically impossible for her to win the nomination and it could only hurt him in the general. More so than John McCain, who actually looked like he didn’t want to win after the banks collapsed, or Sarah Palin, who is a lunatic, Clinton felt to young voters like she was actively running against hope.
Obama couldn’t live up to the hype, and some of the criticism about his naivety turned out to be accurate in his efforts to compromise with people whose only goal was to see him fail, yet he’s still turned out to be the best president of my lifetime (admittedly not a high bar) and I’m grateful we’ve had him rather than the candidate who now promises to continue his legacy but eight years ago sure sounded like she wanted to continue George W. Bush’s. (Unfair? Probably, but it’s sure how she sounded to 24-year-old me when I was so sick of politicians screaming, “Terrorism!” all the time.)
Clinton is a throwback to a deeply traumatic time in America’s politics, and it’s hard to imagine her election not resulting in an unwelcome relitigation of those years. Her party and many voters have clearly forgiven her for her disgraceful conduct in 2008, but for those of us who know her better from that time than we do from her earlier years as First Lady, that’s a foundational political memory that it will take a lot more than tweeting “Yaaas” and other condescending acts of pandering to overcome.