Hillary Clinton Needs to Explain Why Young Voters Don’t Need a Rebel


Over at the LA Times, Cathleen Decker says that timing is a big deal in politics, and Hillary Clinton’s timing is rotten:

She’s running a campaign for president on the argument that she is the most carefully prepared, judiciously educated candidate for the White House — at a time when many voters want to cast their lot with newcomers.

….Clinton heard it Thursday night, most painfully from one of her supporters….“We need a rebel,” a college student and supporter told the candidate, in explaining Clinton’s persistent problems with young voters. “My generation is a little wary of placing another politician in the White House. With your tenure in politics, how are you going to deserve our vote?”

If you are Hillary Clinton, how do you answer that?

I’m generally pretty skeptical of amateur speechwriting, which too often simply assumes that what a politician should really say is whatever the amateur speechwriter happens to believe. Maybe I’m about to do that too. But here’s roughly what I think she should say:

A rebel? No, that’s not what we need. What we need is a revolution.

But how do we get that? FDR got one. But he was no rebel: he was a rich patrician from the Hudson Valley. LBJ got a revolution, and he was no rebel either. He was a mainstream Democrat from Texas who loved to wheel and deal. Barack Obama got a mini-revolution, and do you think he’s a rebel? He’s not. He’s a pragmatic, evidence-driven, modern progressive.

So where did these revolutions come from? Listen to a few numbers. When FDR was elected in 1932, he got a Congress to die for: 60 Democratic senators who could power through almost any filibuster and a 71 percent majority in the House. In 1964 LBJ got 68 senators and 68 percent of the House. In 2008, Obama got 60 senators and 59 percent of the House.

What does that mean for young voters—or anyone else who wants to shake up the political establishment? It means we need a 50-state strategy—along with 50 states of grindingly hard work from the bottom up—to elect big Democratic majorities to Congress. And to go with that, we need a president who’s not only obsessive about pitching in to this tough slog from the top down, but knows how to work with Congress—including the few Republicans we’ll probably still need—to get things done.

That’s not Bernie. God love him, but he just isn’t much interested in getting more Democrats in Congress. Last quarter I raised $18 million to help Democrats get elected this cycle. Bernie raised nothing. Bernie has no real interest in a 50-state strategy. I do. Over a 25-year career in Congress, Bernie has accomplished virtually nothing—because he’s always been more interested in playing the gadfly than in building majorities for change.

If you want a revolution, don’t fall in love with someone who talks big. Fall in love with someone who cares about the same things you do and knows how to get them done. And help us get a Democratic Congress. It’s not sexy, but that’s where revolutions are born.

None of this is new ground for Hillary. She’s been calling herself a “progressive who likes to get things done” for a long time. She just needs a convincing elevator speech that really contrasts her favorably with Bernie on this score. Maybe not my little invention, but something along these lines.