Democratic Leadership Is Too Damn Old
The party needs to realize that winning in November requires not just policies and messagin, but a generational reboot at the top of the ranks.
Millennials are pissed about a lot of issues, from foolishly suggesting #AbolishICE, to their deserved outrage over college debt and tuition. They’re vocalizing and voting that anger and this is no passing fad. Underneath it though is a huge disconnect in our nation’s political system that doesn’t get much attention.
Our nation’s political leadership is extremely old. Like, petrified man.
Start at the top with President Trump. And bear with me for a second while we set aside his misogyny, bigotry, reckless foreign policy and everything else. The dude, at 72 years old, is the oldest man elected president in U.S. history.
He grew up wealthy and wouldn’t understand the plight of racial injustice, college indebtedness or even a minimum wage job if it slapped him across the face. Millenials don’t like the guy and they don’t have a damn thing in common with him. A March AP-NORC poll put Trump’s approval at 33 percent with 15-34 year olds. 60 percent of that same age group said Trump is “mentally unfit” and 63 percent think the guy is a racist. They’re right by the way.
Democrats don’t get a pass from my blatant but warranted ageism. Take the entrenched Democratic leadership, specifically in the House of Representatives. Add up Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Jim Clyburn’s age and you get a whopping 236 years old. For a stark reference, America is 241 years old. Pelosi has been in Congress since 1987 when I was a sophomore undergrad. Hoyer’s been there since 1981 and Clyburn since 1993. I like them all but, let’s be honest, this isn’t the freshest bunch.
And just last week, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) announced she too wants to be a member of the House Democratic leadership, sending me into a ten minute delusion trying to find the calculator on my Iphone just to add up the math. If Lee succeeds and the current top three Democratic leadership remains the same in the next Congress, she bumps that age total up to 308 years. You wonder why the hell young people are demanding new blood.
As a practical matter, this move doesn’t make much sense either. Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), who is also running for the post, far out-raises Lee and spreads that money around to fellow Democrats. According to FEC filings, Sanchez has raised nearly $700,000 in this cycle alone and given almost $400,000 of that to her colleagues and other Democratic candidates. Money buys friends in Washington, D.C. and Lee simply hasn't ponied up. To date, she’s raised less than $100,000 and only spread around $21,000 of the “money love” around.
But it’s not just dollars that matters here. The fight between Lee and Sanchez is a generational one. Lee, who has been in Congress since 1998, is grandmother to five while Sanchez, who is 49 years old, gave birth to a son after entering Congress in 2003.
I’m not knocking Lee or her politics. Her win would add an African-American woman to the Democratic leadership ranks (though Sanchez would bring a Hispanic-America perspective herself). I’m simply saying what I’ve been saying on TV and twitter for a while: Young voters simply don’t identify with Washington politicians. And, when it comes down to it, they are far more likely to relate to a Gen X-er with a son in elementary school than a Baby Boomer with grandkids.
Think I’m wrong? Look no farther than Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) losing to his upstart primary challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a stunning upset last month. Ocasio-Cortez was propelled by a populist message that appealed to a younger, changing New York City population in the outer boroughs. Since 2010, the white population of Crowley’s district plummeted to a mere 18 percent white. Gone are the older white families. In are the gays, minorities, and the couples with strollers.
Politics is evolving rapidly and largely on generational lines. Since 2004, Baby Boomers have made up the largest voting block in America coming in at around 69 percent. But that’s about to change because, well, old people die. Their kids and their kid’s kids will replace them by 2020 as the largest voting block. Their anger is real and if I were a sitting Member of Congress, I’d be worried.
The good news is, some elements of the Democratic Party seem to be getting this. According to Politico, "At least 20 millennial Democratic candidates are running in battleground districts, a leap over previous cycles that could remake the party’s generational divide." But running for office is one thing. Currently-serving members must also present a compelling case to young voters to actually show up to vote. Ya know, things like the economy aka jobs, gun safety, and non-discrimination ranked among the top concerns among this age group in the 2016 elections. And I am worried, frankly, that the Democrats either don’t have that message or the bully pulpit to deliver it.
The Republicans, to their credit, have it figured out on the age front. Add up Speaker Paul Ryan and his next two lieutenants and they’re a combined 153 years old. They look younger and act younger. But they don’t think younger. Their policies are widely hated by younger voters and women voters are in no mood to reward the GOP for frankly being discriminatory by being anti-woman and anti-gay.
All of this spells opportunity for Democrats. But they can’t and shouldn’t squander it. Because if they think they will win millennial voters by default, they are in for a rude awakening.