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Clinton Makes History. My Generation, With No Sense of History, Doesn't Care

A millennial explains why her peers aren't excited about the likely first female major-party nominee for U.S. president

Millennial apathy
Millennial apathy
Molly Roberts*

-OpEd-

A female presidential candidate has clinched a major-party nomination for the first time in U.S. history. No one seems to care — at least not many people in my millennial generation. Not even women, although they should.

Maybe my cohort is caught up in the moment of Donald Trump: Millennial liberals may think it's more vital to ward off an age of authoritarianism than to usher in a new era for feminism. Certainly, we've been distracted by Bernie Sanders: For idealistic young voters, a rabble-rousing revolutionary feels more alluring than a political pragmatist, even one with two X chromosomes.

College campuses buzz these days with talk of "intersectionality," the notion that different forms of discrimination interact and overlap. So to many voters of my generation, being a woman alone might not seem like enough, if you're also white, straight, rich and, by the way, a Clinton.

Carrying that name means carrying a lot of baggage. Clinton has gotten flak for policies her husband championed while president, when today's youngest voters hadn't even reached preschool. Detractors point to the anti-crime and welfare reform efforts that took a greater toll on African Americans than any other population — and for which Hillary Clinton has since apologized.

Now, as Clinton champions an extension of the policies of the past eight years over Sanders's radical revisionism, many millennials are convinced she will always align herself at the center of the established order — wherever that is at any given moment.

They're missing the point.

Many millennials find it easier to pillory Clinton for her mistakes than to praise her for her successes as first lady. But they fail to appreciate how striking those successes were for a first lady at the time. They also fail to understand why Clinton couldn't go further — when it's remarkable she got as far as she did at all.

Unlike her predecessors, Clinton didn't ask Americans to say no to drugs or yes to literacy. Instead, she set out to remake the health-care system. Installing a first lady in a prime-real-estate West Wing office rather than relegating her to traditional East Wing duties was an unprecedented move.

Back then, Clinton was hit from the right for overstepping the bounds of the first-lady role and involving herself in policy. Now, ironically, she is hit from my millennial friends on the left for, well, having involved herself in policy.

And Clinton wasn't viewed as a threat only because she was a woman: She was also too liberal. During Bill Clinton's administration, critics accused her of yanking her husband to the left. Bill had promised "two for the price of one." Yet when the package deal turned voters off, it was Hillary's job to step back. She was, after all, just the wife.

Today, ironically again, Clinton's ideological views present a problem for many millennial voters for the opposite reason: She is, in their assessment, not liberal enough.

My generation underrates not only Clinton's past efforts but also her present significance. Our mothers faced gender barriers; their mothers faced even more. In the 1960s and early '70s, when many of our mothers were children, the most obvious career choice for a woman was housewife. For those who did work outside the home, the gender pay ratio hovered around 60 %.

Women of my generation, on the other hand, grew up being taught — including by our mothers — that we could do anything. For the most part, it has played out that way. When we turn on the news, there's often a woman at the anchor desk — sometimes reporting on another woman. In any given year in the '70s, there were at most 19 women in the House and two in the Senate — including a four-year stretch with no female senators at all. In November, the combined number of women in both chambers passed 100 for the first time.

Our parents may have been surprised — our mothers were probably pleased — that Clinton secured an office in the West Wing at all. We see it as inevitable that one day a woman will occupy the one that is oval-shaped.

So the necessity of having that occupant be Hillary Clinton, or of having that moment occur in 2017, feels less urgent. And the notion of the first female major-party presidential nominee is greeted with a collective millennial yawn.

*Molly Roberts graduated last month from Harvard University and is an intern for The Post's editorial page.

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