On a late October night in 2004, I woke my oldest son Seth to watch an historic event: the Boston Red Sox were on the cusp of winning the World Series for the first time since 1918, thus breaking the 86-year “Curse of the Bambino”. (In an uncharacteristic show of mercy, I let my youngest son sleep through history in the making.) At 11:41 p.m., when the Cardinals’ Edgar Renteria tapped meekly back to Sox pitcher Keith Foulke for the final out, I raised a glass of single malt in a toast to all those generations of Sox fans who had lived and died with our Old Towne Team, and yet who never got to experience what I had just witnessed: a World Championship. It was an experience made that much sweeter because I shared it with my son.
Years later I remember asking Seth how he felt on that historic night, when church bells rang throughout small New England towns, grandfathers wept with their sons, and the ghosts of Billy Buckner, Grady Little, Mike Torrez and yes, the Babe himself, were finally and irrevocably exorcised. He paused for a moment and then replied, “I don’t remember. I think I fell asleep.” Upon reflection, I wasn’t surprised by his response. Seth hadn’t really experienced the Red Sox’ long, tortured history, had no idea who Enos Slaughter, Mookie Wilson or Bucky “Bleeping” Dent even were, had no real understanding of why Fenway Park is a religious shrine. (When I brought him to games there, he would bring a science fiction book to read during down time.) And it’s not like this was a once-in-a-lifetime event – the Red Sox have gone on to win two more championships since that historic victory.
I was reminded of Seth’s reaction last night, when my twitter feed was inundated with posts reacting to Hillary Clinton clinching the Democratic nomination, thus becoming the first woman to run as a major party’s nominee. On her twitter feed, Clinton posted this picture, with the caption: “Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Great Things Can’t Happen in America.”
It was particularly poignant moment when Clinton, in her victory speech, referenced her own mother, saying, “”I wish she could see her daughter become the Democratic Party’s nominee.”
More than one tweeter noted that they were in tears watching this historic moment: “Crying for all the women who never got a chance to see this. #historymade #Imwithher.” And this: “kind of sobbing #historymade”. There were lots of references as well to the shattering of the final glass ceiling: “I’m celebrating by drinking tears of the patriarchy from my glass made of shattered glass ceiling. #HistoryMade”
Many of the tweeters noted that they had woken their young daughters, so that they might watch Clinton’s victory speech and experience the historic event together, much as I had woken my son many years ago. More than one included this photo in their tweets.
In reading these tweets, I could not help but wonder: Were the young daughters crying too? And how many of them will remember this event? It’s no secret that the biggest dividing line between Clinton’s and Sanders’ supporters – maybe bigger than income, or race – is age. Glass ceiling notwithstanding, Millennials – those born after 1980 – vote overwhelmingly for Bernie, while Clinton does much better with the over-fifty crowd. Surprisingly, perhaps, polls indicate that the age divide extends to women, with Sanders running stronger among young women, while Clinton’s support with a women increases as one moves up the age ladder.
For many Millennial women, the notion that Clinton’s deserves their support because of her gender makes little sense and, in fact, seems somewhat patronizing. Yes, they realize that no women had become a major party nominee, never mind president. But that had less to do with some metaphorical glass ceiling than it did with the failure to find an effective woman candidate. And when they look at the two Democratic candidates, and their stances on issues like income inequality, dealing with Wall St., the environment, health care and education, they find it hard to make a case for Clinton over Sanders. As one of my female students explained in an op-ed piece she wrote justifying her vote for Bernie, “Voting for Hillary, at least for me, would have meant that I was content with the pragmatic, incremental changes that she’s proposed, and that I was skeptical of Bernie’s ability to beat a Republican nominee – and maybe even his ability to run the country.” A vote for Bernie, “the Democratic socialist from Vermont,” she argued, “essentially means that you think the current political system (largely controlled by wealthy individuals and corporate interests) isn’t working. You reject the consumerism, me-first way of life of our parents’ generation and envision a more sustainable, more caring and more economically just America.”
That is a sentiment widely shared among my students, men and women, and among Millennials more generally. This doesn’t mean they don’t recognize the historic nature of Clinton’s candidacy, or that they believe gender discrimination is no longer a problem in society. But they grew up in the era of Title IX, at a time when more women than men are graduating from college, and when the gender pay gap is diminishing. To them, their gender seems less likely to determine their fate than it did for Clinton’s generation, and there is little reason to believe it will determine how one behaves as President.
Perhaps more importantly, Hillary Clinton does not strike many Millennials as the ideal symbol of gender equality. Instead, she seems to be the product of a political establishment that they reject as corrupt and incapable of change. Clinton’s long history of association with scandals, from Whitewater through Lewinsky and her husband’s impeachment (and they don’t forget she stood by her man) to the current email server controversy, makes her less a symbol of change than a reminder of politics as usual. And more than one student has noted to me that Clinton got her initial political start as the spouse of the President – hardly the Millennial’s feminist ideal. Unfair? Perhaps. But in a head-to-head matchup, many Millennials prefer what they see as Sanders’ more genuine, idealistic and uplifting message over Clinton’s establishment persona.
In making his case last night to his followers for why he will stay in the race, Sanders noted his overwhelming support among young voters – a sign, he says, that his message represents the future of the Democratic Party, and of politics more generally. Time will tell if he’s right. In the years to come, the young daughters who were dragged out of bed last night to stand next to Mom and Grandma, may look back and wonder what all the fuss was about – if they remember at all. I suppose that would be progress, of a sort. In that vein, my son Seth never developed much passion for baseball, to say nothing of a rooting allegiance for the Red Sox. “The games are too slow,” he tells me. On the other hand, he just published his first science fiction novel, to rave reviews.
I guess I can live with that.