The Millennial Paradox

If an alien landed in the middle of a 2016 Bernie Sanders rally -- it would think that an unhinged right wing Republican had been at the reigns of America for the past eight years. A Republican who had managed to successfully destroy our economy and let Wall Street run amuck. Maybe the alien would assume that George Bush got an extra eight years, or that the McCain-Palin ticket won, who knows.

It most certainly would not assume that we have had a president save our economy from the brink of disaster, sign the most comprehensive bill ever passed to reign in Wall Street, bailout the auto-industry with massive government intervention, crack down on credit card companies, legalize gay marriage, and succeed in passing the most extensive health reform America have ever seen.

Now, this is what really gets me. Of the Bernie supporters I know, all of them love Obama. Everyone loves Obama. Even if you technically hate Obama, you secretly love Obama. How could you not? He has managed to maintain his integrity, composure, and charisma throughout eight years of a grueling presidency. He cracks jokes with Colbert, and inspires millions of millennials to fight the odds, work hard, and stand up for what we believe in. His wife is the coolest First Lady that will ever inhabit the White House, bar none. Echoing the statements of many in my cohort, one (Bernie supporter) friend says he would "literally jump in front of a bus for that man."

This is the paradox of Bernie's campaign. The rhetoric he employs implies America is on the brink of doom. It implies that Barack Obama has not been president of the United States for the past eight years. It implies that we haven't had the biggest political revolution that we (millennials, maybe even our parents) have seen in our lifetime. Think about it.

Eight years ago, George W. Bush was president. Umbrella and Sweet Escape were blasting on our iPod shuffles, Tiger Woods had not been shamed into oblivion, the American economy appeared to be booming, and we hadn't heard of transgendered people yet. Oh, how naive we were.

In a mere seven years, Barack Obama has transformed our country and our society into a more accepting, more inclusive, and more American place. He has been a progressive president. He has succeeded where every president has failed since Truman in passing Obamacare. He has thrived amidst the sustained right wing assault from the Koch brothers et al. which get millions of dollars from power brokers. And as Senator Rubio noted, he knows exactly what he is doing, and it's working. And I firmly believe he will go down in history as a political revolutionary. And we are going to miss him.

Obama is a bold incrementalist, and it has worked. He never promised nor attempted a political revolution, but his policies and platform have gone through, one by one. Hillary is cut from the same cloth. She has voted in line with Obama ninety-some percent of the time, she led his administration's foreign policy, she supports him, and she looks up to him. But most importantly, she shares his approach to governing.

Bernie, on the other hand, rejects the incremental approach. Whether or not he intended to run against Obama in 2012 is irrelevant -- the truth is that Bernie disagrees with Obama's and Clinton's approach to governing.

This is the paradox of Bernie's campaign. How can a group of people willing to crawl over broken glass for Barack Obama so vehemently oppose someone so similar to him in ideals and policy? How is it simply a "given" that Democratic millennials support a radical so different from the status quo you'd assume the status quo was a flaming hot Republican hell? Hasn't Obama's approach to governing...worked?

My original thesis was that my friends were supporting the candidate they would rather smoke a joint with -- which made a lot of sense to me. Obama is simply the coolest. If any of the current presidential candidates read a steamy love poem on the Valentine's Day episode of Ellen, it would have been downright freaky. Somehow, Obama made it hilarious and cool. "I would literally have his children," a friend (Bernie supporter) remarked.

Bernie is an old socialist from Vermont, and he has probably smoked a joint or two in his day. He seems chill enough. He is a funny, old, grumpy, grandpa, and his persona begs the meme-makers of the internet to go into overdrive. He's trendy. He's says what he believes. And he doesn't give a f---.

I realize their reasons are more profound than my original thesis, but the irony just flabbergasts me. Since when did my friends start caring about campaign finance reform? Even about Wall Street? Haven't #BlackLivesMatter, women's rights, gun violence, and our presence in the global community been more pressing issues in our lifetime?

I asked a friend directly why she supported both Obama and Sanders. She told me she "loved them both for different reasons" and that "Obama is smart and compassionate" and more unifying than Bernie, but "Bernie is addressing what is wrong with America right now." Which is kind of what I expected -- the only way to reconcile the fact that one supports both is that they simply like Obama. "Smart and compassionate" are personality traits. "Addressing current problems" is not. Though -- does that imply that Obama isn't addressing current problems?

Another friend remarked that the reason he supported both Bernie and Obama was their "consistent commitment to their values," the fact that they are both genuine people, and their commitment to health care and the environment. (Given Clinton's commitment to health care and the environment, I figure this is less important than the first two points).

What I've drawn from my scattered research is that millennials put a huge focus on the perceived values of a politician. Perceived beliefs and convictions resonate with young people. Maybe it's because we are idealistic, and optimistic. Maybe it's because trust is becoming a scarce commodity in 2016, especially in politics, and the idea that we could put our trust in the leader of the free world uplifts and impassions us. Maybe it's because we're naive.

If this is true, then Hillary Clinton called our bluff last Thursday at the Milwaukee debate. In her closing statement, she glides over Bernie's policies, agreeing that we do need to reign in Wall Street and we do get money out of politics. But then, she makes her point: "I am not a single-issue candidate, and I do not believe we live in a single-issue country." She tells Bernie supporters, "You're right". But she goes further. She claims that if inequality were "fixed" tomorrow, we, as a country, would still be facing a host of other problems. "We would still have the indifference, the negligence that we saw in Flint." Money doesn't fix everything.

Clinton called our bluff by forcing us to ask ourselves why we support who we support. I do not think that Bernie supporters truly believe we live in a single-issue country, I just don't. Obama certainly does not believe we live in a single-issue country. Clinton's closing statement forces young people to explain themselves.

Do we support Bernie simply because of his convictions? It's okay if we do -- we just have to admit it. We have to admit that his policies don't cover all bases, and that there is definitely room for improvement. We have to admit that we support a candidate because of what we perceive to be his values, not because we think his policies would be the most effective in changing the status quo. We have to come clean.

Sanders doesn't elicit the same infatuation Obama does; (so far, I haven't heard any friends claim that they want to have Bernie's children, but I guess it's only February). But both Obama and Sanders appear to be politicians of integrity, principle and convictions; they appear trustworthy and real. Both elicit raw emotion in young people, something few politicians, including Clinton, achieve.

The truth is, though Obama is cooler, more charismatic, and appears more virtuous than Clinton, their policy platforms and their approach to governing are the exact same. Clinton finally zeroed in on this phenomenon on Thursday, and I think it will help her immensely. From her podium, Clinton looked young people in the eyes and said, listen, if you're for Bernie strictly because of his convictions, that's fine. But if you care admit that there is a range of other issues facing America today, you should probably give me a shot.

For those who desire eight more years of an Obama presidency, you can literally vote for eight more years of an Obama presidency by checking the box next to Clinton's name. The irony, though, is that many might not. They love Bernie, oppose Clinton, and would sacrifice themselves on a burning funeral pyre for Obama. On Thursday, in Milwaukee, Clinton finally asked them why.