Talkin' 'Bout My Generation
When I read Hillary Clinton’s comment yesterday that she would, “…in the next five days, do as much as I can to talk about my record in creating opportunities for young people,” it made me cringe. Stung by the dramatic loss of young voters (particularly young women) to Barack Obama in Iowa, Clinton has decided that she must work harder to lure young voters into her campaign’s fold.
I was teaching at Dartmouth College in 1996, when Bob Dole staged a remarkably awkward campaign event with MTV’s Choose or Lose Bus at Dartmouth’s Alpha Delta Fraternity (of Animal House fame). Dole was quite explicit that this was his attempt to connect with “the young people.” I am not suggesting that Hillary Clinton is a geriatric campaigner, and many of us remember Bill Clinton’s brilliant appearance on MTV, during the 1992 campaign (briefs, not boxers). But my experience with students has taught me that the minute you treat them as a demographic group to programmatically managed, you lose them.
I was still at Dartmouth in 2000, when John McCain mesmerized students with his mantra urging them to become part of something greater than their own self-interest. As a result, young voters were an integral part of McCain’s victory here. Like McCain in 2000, Obama seems to understand the need to appeal to young voters’ sense of civic empowerment, rather than to their individual self-interest. It certainly feels like Obama’s campaign has caught some of the McCain mojo this time around.
Clinton still has an opportunity to make her best case to young voters. But if she tries to wonk the vote with them, by detailing how all of her various policy proposals are in their own self-interest, she will make little headway in reversing the tide that carried Obama to victory in Iowa.


Posted On: 01-05-2008 15:44:52 by JK from NY
You're right on about the possible backlash from Clinton seemingly pandering to young people. Marketers know well that Xers and Millennials have high-intensity bullshit detectors, and clumsy, insincere efforts to relate to them will be perceived as lame and backfire.

Posted On: 01-06-2008 08:27:29 by JH
One of the perks of being President is that you have a bully pulpit for 4 years, at least. George Bush's oratory style at the pulpit has caused me to cringe for years. When I hear H. Clinton speak, I cringe, not because her speaking ability is similar to Bush's but because she tries to connect to voters as Dukakis did. I don't think I want 4 years of her on the bully pulpit.

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