If you listened to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s words after the polls closed in New Hampshire Tuesday night, you heard that she hit a lot of the right notes — she was gracious in defeat, promised that this was a stumble along the way that made her more relatable, and even admitted that she had “work to do” with “young people.” But Clinton’s New Hampshire primary speech showed she’s overlooking one huge and powerful group that you would think would be an important focus of her campaign.
When Clinton took the stage to address supporters after losing pretty badly to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, her speech was clearly intended to appeal to families. She started early, telling the crowd, "It isn’t right that the kids I met in Flint on Sunday were poisoned because their governor wanted to save money. She move on to how the country needs to "make it easier for parents to balance work and family.” Then she directly referenced parents:
African American parents shouldn’t have to worry that their children will be harassed, humiliated, even shot because of the color of their skin. Immigrant families shouldn’t have to lie awake at night listening for a knock at the door.
Later in the speech, she focused on her record helping children:
When children anywhere in our country go to bed hungry or are denied a quality education or who face abuse or abandonment, that diminishes all of us. That’s why I started my career at the Children’s Defense Fund, that’s why I went undercover in Alabama, to expose racism in schools, that’s why I worked to reform juvenile justice in South Carolina, and that is why I went to Flint, Michigan on Sunday.
Talking about how much you care about kids and your commitment to making their lives better is pretty standard campaign fare from any candidate, but coming from Clinton, this week particularly, something was off. The problem was that in Clinton’s mind, the constituency that rhetoric was intended to reach — people with kids — seemed to be separate from one she mentioned later in the speech, the “young people” her campaign offended deeply over the weekend.
It started Friday night when Gloria Steinem, stumping for Hillary Clinton on the Bill Maher show, said young women were supporting Bernie Sanders because the Sanders campaign is where “the boys are.” Then former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright scolded young women at a Clinton rally in New Hampshire Saturday, telling them essentially that they must vote for Clinton because she’s a woman. "We climbed the ladder, and a lot of you younger women think it’s done. It’s not done. There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” Albright said.
Unsurprisingly, these prompted immediate dismay and outrage from young women, many of whom look up to Steinem, Albright, and Clinton, or did, as advocates for them. When Clinton said Tuesday night, "I know I have some work to do, particularly with young people,” it was a clear reference to the incident.
But what was really disconcerting was the way she spoke as though she was addressing this quasi-apology to a completely different group of people than the people she appealed to early in the speech when she was talking about family. It was as though she didn’t realize that they — we — are the same.
The average age of first birth in the United States is 26.3, NPR reported earlier this year. Clinton’s supporters — current, potential, now possibly former — aren't split into the “young people” and “parents.” Millennial women are the parents, 50 percent of them at least. And they — we — are so, so ready for a president who recognizes us.
Clinton must know this. After all, her daughter is a millennial and a parent. But there seems to be some sort of disconnect. The “work” Clinton has to do with “young people” is also work she has to do with the people she is appealing to when she talks about black kids’ futures or immigrant families lying awake at night or lead poisoning in Michigan.
Many millennial women desperately want Hillary Clinton to be our candidate. For proof of that, look no further than the viral rant Courtney Enlow published Feb. 2 pointing out many people’s unconsciously sexist reasons for supporting Clinton over Sanders.
For more proof of that, see how incredibly upset many were at Steinem, not only for falling short of what they expect from the leader of the Women’s Movement but for representing Hillary while doing it. But to do that, we need to feel like Hillary Clinton understands us, which means not speaking to millennials or parents as separate constituency groups she needs to reach. Even if you get that millennials are parents, do not speak to us as an other. View us as you when you were a young woman with a kid, trying to make it work, because that is who we are. Millennials, Hillary: we’re just like you. So speak to us as peers whose experience you understand. And then tell us how you’re going to make us proud.