It’s long been said that America is a youth obsessed culture—and the fallout from a comment Hillary Clinton made during the most recent debate has emphasized just how true this is. During the debate Ms. Clinton was asked about recent race-related activism at the University of Missouri. Her immediate response was to support the students by aligning herself with their feelings and behavior, and she did this by referencing her own college experience. “I come from the sixties, a long time ago,” Ms. Clinton said. “There was a lot of activism on campus…and I do appreciate the way young people are standing up and speaking out.” The response was swift and deafening both among Republicans and younger candidates from her own party. The consensus was that we need is a 21st Century President, not one from the last century who will bring old ideas and solutions to today’s challenges and problems. OUCH.
Everyone who has ever put together a winning resume knows that experience is an essential element that gets them that first interview and helps them land the position. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where experience is considered a negative, except in today’s political climate. Now it seems that it is being equated with an inability to get the job done due to an insider status that works to maintain the status quo. And since experience needs to be acquired over time, older candidates generally have more, along with the presumed wisdom that accompanies it. Yet in the current climate, older and experienced seems to be equated with out of touch and unresponsive to what constituents are saying they want and need.
So how do we explain the popularity of Bernie Sanders? At 74 years of age he is older than Ms. Clinton and he has a lot of elected office experience under his belt. He is to the left of center, as Clinton now claims to be—and their platforms, positions on issues, and goals are very similar. Yet his appeal has been strong, especially among the young. As the one clear distinction difference between them is gender this could point to a cultural bias that says as men age they grow wiser, stronger, and evolve in a way that women do not. Women on the other hand are seen as less relevant, out of touch, and old rather than richly seasoned like men.
Maybe this is why Clinton is targeting women voters. She is focusing on a group that she believes gets her and can appreciate what her age and experience could bring to the job and its over the top challenges. Bernie on the other hand knows that the young appreciate his to the left of center positions and how passionately he speaks about them. If Clinton gets the nomination as she is expected to do so—will she be able to win over Bernie’s followers? If by some chance Bernie were to prevail, would women back him? Or will voters instead decide that younger trumps everything else and go for a more youthful face—maybe someone like Senator Rubio?