Cooper: Clinton’s lack of “coolness” could harm the Democratic party

Danny Cooper, Columnist

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will likely be the Democratic nominee for President, according to FiveThirtyEight. And based on polling versus her prospective Republican opponents, she has a good chance of winning the general election, too. Although Clinton would make a fine president, as a Bernie Sanders supporter, this outlook is slightly demoralizing. The Vermont senator has managed to capture the imagination of America’s youth in a way that has eluded Clinton, and though she does not seem to need widespread support on college campuses around the nation to win the Democratic nomination, the fact that she does not have it may adversely impact the future of the Democratic party.

It’s not for a lack of trying that Clinton does not have overwhelming support from young people. In 2016 alone, she made appearances on talk shows hosted by Jimmy Fallon and Ellen DeGeneres, “I Am Cait” and a variety of other popular television programs. However, her attempts to engage America’s youth, such as “dabbing” — a popular dance among American teens — on Ellen, often come across as more forced than charming. A more recent example of forced humor is her scripted exchange with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio this past week, during which her attempts to be funny have came off as woefully out-of-touch. In the exchange, de Blasio used the term “C.P. time” — referring to the stereotyped “Colored People Time” — which drew criticism from the media and cringes from the audience, according to The New York Times. Clinton’s response, that it actually stood for “cautious politician time,” did not allay the awkwardness.

It really does not make sense that an old Brooklyn Jewish grandpa with wild white hair has the edge in coolness over anyone, and yet Sanders undoubtedly holds that advantage. Memes comparing the supposed views of the two candidates on various youth-oriented issues (such as favorite Radiohead songs or Harry Potter knowledge) proliferated throughout Facebook, with Sanders always coming out as the cool one.

In part, Sanders cultivated his “coolness” by showing such strong support for the issues that  deeply impact the adolescent population, such as reducing the cost of higher education.

However, a significant aspect of his popularity is his personality. Whether he is appearing alongside his seemingly identical twin Larry David on “Saturday Night Live” or rushing to the aid of a fallen staffer in the middle of a speech, Sanders has a way of attracting positive attention. He managed to get the support of indie band Vampire Weekend, who visited Northwestern’s campus last quarter in order to garner votes for Sanders. Sometimes it seems like he even has the support of the animal kingdom, such as when a bird landed on his podium in the middle of a speech.

This is not the first time Clinton has been surpassed in coolness by a political opponent. In 2008, Barack Obama won the presidency partly thanks to his personality and message that captured the hearts of young Americans, as well as a social media campaign that brought young people to the polls.

The last Democrat to secure the presidency before Obama, Hillary Clinton’s husband Bill Clinton, used his appealing persona as a slick, saxophone-playing charmer to succeed in his various presidential bids. The fact that there has already been a Clinton presidency adversely affects Hillary Clinton’s youth appeal, as it ties her concretely to the past.

It is possible that Hillary Clinton’s perceived stiffness is related to her gender and her position as a powerful woman in politics, which is traditionally a male-dominated area. Hillary Clinton is often forced to toe the line between being perceived as assertive and coming off as bossy or shrill.

During this election, the youth vote may not really matter — Hillary Clinton holds a sizeable delegate lead and seems likely to take the White House. However, it’s tough to imagine she will receive the same support Obama did from the American youth. How her youth popularity could affect approval numbers or midterm elections is not yet a concern, but as another Clinton presidency starts to take shape, Democrats must consider how to maintain the Obama-Sanders energy in the party while promoting Hillary Clinton’s less exciting but more polished image.

Although the Democrats’ liberal policies will likely keep many young people voting blue for the foreseeable future, it will be more difficult to drive people to the polls when they are apathetic about the candidates involved. If the Democrats wish to advance policies that will keep young people voting for them, it is important for them to keep some modicum of the Sanders energy within the party even if he doesn’t get the nomination.

Danny Cooper is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.