Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

The Old Dogs Learn New Tricks :: What the Clintons Learned From Iowa


Hey young people! Hey women! Thanks for coming!!

Xposted at The Huffington Post

Don’t call it a comeback. Hillary was always going to win, polls (especially polls of African American candidates) and media (always itching for any reason to throw dirt on a Clinton coffin) be damned.

But New Hampshire marks the moment that generational change is becoming major factor in the Democratic primary race.

The Clintons have history here. After young people—the supposedly politically dodgy “Generation X”—turned out in huge numbers to sweep Clinton to the presidency in 1992, the Dems consistently ignored them and their issues for the next 3 elections, calling them “apathetic” and “cynical”.

It’s true that we proved them right for the next few elections. But there were more than a few good reasons to stay home on election day: Bill’s strategic demonizing of young African Americans, the welfare deform that tossed hundreds of thousands of poor young people out on the street, the rapid deterioration of college access, and the tough-on-crime “centrist” politics that put more young people of color behind bars than any previous American generation.

(I was stunned this morning to see a new level of unseemly Boomer crowing, as if a Clinton victory is a much-needed beatdown of post-Boomers and the MSM who allegedly love them. It’s a demonstration of how closely many Boomer Dems identify with the Clintons. It bears noting, though, that the drop in the youth vote after 1992 played no small role in the rise of Newt Gingrich and the politics of the impeachment.)

So thus it has been since 1992. Every election season, there are a few lines about increasing student loans—Just what we need! More debt!—and some token lines about the wonder of idealism (thank you, Bill Bradley), but other than that it’s usually been, “Boy, get me some coffee.” Then came 2004, the hip-hop generation’s all-but-ignored breakthrough moment, and Iowa 2008, with Obama’s armies of the quad.

Even as the media was writing off the Clintons as tired, confused and done, they were rapidly assimilating new knowledge. They knew that young voters would make up a much smaller proportion of Dem voters in New Hampshire than in Iowa. Hillary’s grassroots operation was in place, her people were motivated by a life-and-death kind of adrenalin, and she learned some key lessons from Iowa.

1) Take back the women’s vote. A lot of attention last night–in an explicitly sexist way–focused on “The Tears Of The Ice Queen” story. (How uncomfortable were CNN’s Donna Brazile and Campbell Brown with line of rhetoric? Very. How many male commentators would ask Rudy Giuliani to cry? None.)

But no one in the MSM picked up on Gloria Steinem’s call to action in the Times yesterday, part of an all-out effort to tell the white women of New Hampshire: this race ain’t about race, it’s about gender.

(For more stuff on the Steinem piece, check Julianne’s blog here and here, and a guest post by Jennifer Fang on Carmen’s blog.)

2) Split the kids. On Sunday, Bill Clinton told MTV News, “I think historically young people have not voted in the Iowa caucus because they are from other states…This time we had a lot of students who did come back and I think, frankly, thousands and and thousands of them were from Illinois and wanted to support Senator Obama, and they had a very aggressive outreach. And … we haven’t made that mistake here; we’ve reached out to young people here just as much as he has, and I think we just have to keep trying.” Aside from the carpet-bagger diss—get used to it, Bubba, because it is what it is—it was a telling shift. The campaign retooled itself to attract young white women.

The most notable image last night was Hillary’s imitation of Obama’s perfect Iowa victory speech: the candidate bathed in morning light, surrounded by bright hopeful diverse (well, as diverse as you can get in Iowa) crowds in rapt attention, ready to explode in joy. Last night, Hillary’s handlers perfectly duplicated Obama’s set–right down to placing all the under-24 white women they could find (plus an Asian Indian woman for a little color and a Chinese dude for a little diversity) behind her. “Ready to Lead” became the inspirational “Ready for Change”. She even inserted a couple of applause lines about predatory student lenders.

All this was in sharp contrast to her Iowa speech in which she gave a boiler-plate stump that even she didn’t seem invested in, looked uncomfortable standing next to Bill, and was surrounded in poor lighting by Madeline Albright and shady-looking union operatives.

So the old dogs can learn new tricks. Hillary moves on to South Carolina ready to sound more liberal and more concerned with racial justice than she ever may again this election season. And you can bet that a lot of dedicated young activists in the Clinton and Obama campaigns are about to be tapped by their higher-ups for the ride of their lives.

Because of the hard work of what might now be seen as a vanguard group of activists at the University of Iowa, Iowa State, and other college campuses in the Hawkeye, Democrats are more interested than they’ve ever been in what young people are going to be doing on the day their little election comes to your state. So if you’re a left-leaning college student, know that for the next several weeks, you will be the most courted youth in the history of American politics.

The ball is now in your court. What do you really want?

posted by @ 9:54 am | 5 Comments



5 Responses to “The Old Dogs Learn New Tricks :: What the Clintons Learned From Iowa”

  1. ronnie brown says:

    my pragmatic side says that Clinton wins strictly on the “experience” tip…my cynic side tells me that even idealistic white youth will hedge their bets with a white woman they know instead of a Black man that comes with the legacy of a nations unresolved racial history with him.

  2. Lauren says:

    In response to the furor over which candidate is more experienced–Barack Obama entered electoral politics before either John Edwards or Hillary Clinton, running for the Illinois Senate in 1995. And if we really want to buck sexism in our analysis of Clinton as a candidate, can we all please stop substituting her marriage to Bill for years of real political experience? Being married to the President doesn’t make her a politician. It makes her a politician’s wife.

  3. ronnie brown says:

    Lauren…excellent point.

    pundits have “grandfathered” Hillary Clinton’s political experience via her husband…she really is hiding in plain sight!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Enjoy the blog — thanks for the commentary and linkage.

    I’m looking a bit into the economic advisers of the candidates and I wonder if the young ones are not making the same mistake my jumping on the Obama bandwagon. By all accounts his main guy, Austan Goolsbee, is a free market centrist:

    Goolsbee on MMoore’s Sicko: http://www.slate.com/id/2169454/

    Obama has few other guys who may at one time or another have supported the privatization of Social Security and who were part of Clinton I:

    Jeffrey Leibman: http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/ksgnews/KSGInsight/liebman.htm

    David Cutler:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/13/magazine/13HEALTH.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

    These are no smears on Obama himself. The president is different from his economic advisers. However, I’ve listened to him speak at Google and heard some of his quasi-Republican criticism of SS and am led to believe that he’s imbibed some of these economic ideas. And while not inherently bad on its face [unless you're a far left radical, of course], a lot of this may result in the same centrist policy that marginalized young people and the working/poor during the Clinton administration, esp. since as much as Obama may be committed to progressive ideals as a man he might be suckered into the same econ deals because he’s too much of political neophyte to know any better.

    I say this as someone who’s split between Obama and Edwards, if not Kucinich (yes, laugh, why don’t you ;).

    In any case, I’m not presenting this because I’m expecting anyone to be super-experts on economic policy (though if you are, please share). I guess it all boils down to whether we can trust Obama to actually do the right thing.

  5. Zentronix says:

    Thanks for your post…

    It’s interesting because Obama also markets himself as the type of person who prides going to audiences and telling them the opposite of what they want to hear. This is the basis of his California TV ads right now (which BTW are strangely very UNdiverse. You’d think all Obama supporters were blue-eyed middle-class folk. Interesting…)

    In other words, he says he’s different from Bill Clinton, who gathered people from the middle left and the middle right then tried to triangulate their views toward the ‘new centrism’.

    But there is much he hasn’t said in this primary season about where he really stands. And this is the basis of Bill Clinton’s often stupefyingly dumb remarks about Obama. Bill thinks he’s trying to smoke Obama out of his hole on policy issues, when actually he’s making Hillary look bad.

    Anyway, I’ve got a long list of issues on which Obama hasn’t stepped up. Here are two of great importance to the hip-hop gen:

    Juvenile & Criminal Justice
    He says he’s generally against mandatory minimums, and pro-prevention/anti-incarceration. But not much more on what this means in terms of reversing the War on Youth or the War on Drugs.

    Educational Access
    Obama makes vague nods towards affordability but not much of a stance on debt issues or the growing wealth gap between generations. The most he’s said is that ending the war will produce a peace dividend that can help fund such priorities.

    If any Obama supporter wants to step up and answer these Qs, we’re Perot.

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