In some ways, there has never been a more embarrassing time to be a Democrat. With millennials now "the largest voting-age generation in the country," and Gen Z-ers poised to make up one in 10 eligible voters in 2020, the party is naturally hungry for young voters. As a result, Democrats in recent years have gone all in on "cool" internet memes, pop culture references, and cha-chas on Ellen.
Take it from this millennial: Stop. Old politicians trying to be hip is a sort of uncanny valley for my generation — we can immediately see right through it — and it comes across instead as exceedingly lame. How do you do, fellow kids, indeed.
But this sort of cringe-y messaging is more than just cause to groan and roll your eyes. Democrats' painful attempts at relevance are rooted in a messaging crisis at a time when the party ought to be branding itself as serious and trustworthy. Instead, these patronizing and stilted attempts to appeal to "the youth" — say, with Beyoncé wallpaper and other memes — instead fuels my generation's lack of faith in the party.
Here are a dozen recent times that Democrats hilariously blew their messaging to us fellow kids.
12. Picking a fight with the GOP over a doge meme
.@GOP your memes are as dated as your policies.
— The Democrats (@TheDemocrats) June 9, 2014
Democrats aren't alone in their goofy attempts to appeal to young voters (remember when Ben Carson made a rap ad?). That being said, Dems' attempts to paint themselves as "the cool party" sometimes ends up making things worse.
In 2014, the GOP Twitter account shared a version of the "doge" meme to hit Bill and Hillary Clinton over their speaking fees. Within an hour, the Democrats had jumped in to call the meme "as dated as your policies." Zing?
Democrats clearly wanted to establish that they're the party for people who can tell when a meme is past its expiration date. Still, it's pretty wearying to think that this would matter to anyone when we have more pressing things (like crippling student debt, a hopeless job market, and a soon-to-be uninhabitable planet) to keep us up at night.
11. That time the party stole the Papa John's slogan
In 2017, as the high-stakes 2018 midterm elections approached, Democrats put their noses to the grindstone. They needed to come up with a snappy slogan, something that would launch a blue wave by stirring young people's hearts and, er, stomachs.
Dems eventually settled on "better skills, better jobs, better wages." Sound familiar? It's technically pulled from an op-ed by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), but it also happens to evoke a certain pizza chain's motto that goes: "Better ingredients. Better Pizza. Papa John's."
This might have been the most embarrassing detail, though:
Another member noted that this is the result of months of polling and internal deliberations among the House Democratic caucus
— Jeff Stein (@JStein_WaPo) July 20, 2017
Really? And that's the best you came up with?
10. Bernie gets funky on Ellen
To Bernie Sanders' enormous credit, the Vermont senator typically avoids bothering with the usual electoral goofiness and sticks to his talking points. But even Sanders caved in 2015, when he attempted to be "relatable" by talking about his favorite member of One Direction and grooving on Ellen:
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) October 15, 2015
No one's buying it. Maybe stick to basketball.
9. Like a boss?
— The Democrats (@TheDemocrats) May 23, 2014
The Democrats' official Twitter account tends to be one-stop shopping for lame ideas, dating all the way back to the Obama era. In 2014, the account teased a bumper sticker featuring President Obama's face and the words "like a boss." Kids love slang!
Justifiably, conservatives took the lame bumper sticker idea and ran with it; Breitbart trashed the tweet in a post compiling the best photoshopped responses. But unable to resist getting the last word, the Democrats had another go at the bumper sticker push ... and it was somehow even worse.
— The Democrats (@TheDemocrats) May 23, 2014
8. "I mean, have you seen the other guys?"
If the aforementioned Papa John's snafu hadn't convinced you, I'll just come out and say it: The Democrats are miserable when it comes to writing slogans. Let's revisit an episode in 2017, when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fired off an email asking supporters to vote on which inspirational, Pinterest-worthy bumper sticker slogan they liked best.
But by "inspirational" slogans, I mean:
— Derek Willis (@derekwillis) July 5, 2017
Sadly, there are more where that came from.
7. "Supreme Corp."
It doesn't help the party that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, arguably the most powerful Democrat in the country at the moment, is completely out of touch with what resonates with the youth. After the Supreme Court's union-crippling ruling in Janus v. AFSCME last year, then-Minority Leader Pelosi used a press conference to try out some "catchy" new branding.
"With this decision," she said, "the Supreme Court became the Supreme Corp." (I called the moment "ridiculously lame" at the time).
House Minority Leader Pelosi says following the Supreme Court's decision on union fees, "The Supreme Court became the Supreme Corp., that's in short for corporation. They are handmaidens of corporate America...there to undermine workers in our country" https://t.co/iskqMkqFSx pic.twitter.com/1gOQOhSORi
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) June 28, 2018
Slate notes Pelosi even explained her joke, adding "that's as in short for 'corporation.'" Thanks, Nancy.
6. Just chillin'
You've got to hand it to Hillary Clinton — she really, really wanted that youth vote. And while she ultimately got it (55 percent to Trump's 37), it was no thanks to moments like her "just chillin'" Snapchat video that she filmed in a parking lot (?) in Iowa:
5. Totes for Joe
Oh, come on!
4. This authentic and spontaneous discussion of Game of Thrones
Democratic politicians: They're just like us! They listen to the same music, love the same memes, and watch the same TV shows. Lest we forget it, though, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren recorded a "very natural, totally non-forced discussion about" Game of Thrones and shared it on Twitter.
Somehow it's even worse than it sounds:
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) May 21, 2019
3. "A whole mood"
This is a whole mood.
Text "Boy Bye" to 43367 to get this exclusive wallpaper. pic.twitter.com/reWksgbNEz
— The Democrats (@TheDemocrats) June 15, 2019
Oh boy, where to even start? On Monday, the Democrats shared their latest trainwreck of an idea in the form of "exclusive" pink-and-black phone wallpaper designed to tell President Trump "boy bye."
This was promptly slammed as being a stupid idea, with Intelligencer calling it "a pleading call to action, designed to harvest phone numbers for future spam texts, undergirded by the bizarre idea that people might actually want an 'exclusive' Democratic Party wallpaper for their phones."
there are concentration camps at the border https://t.co/v8JsAlbjG6
— jaboukie (@jaboukie) June 17, 2019
That's not even to mention that the tweet's condescension — suggesting that young voters need to be catered to with Beyoncé lyrics, rather than actual real issues — is more alienating than anything. No thanks!
2. "Pokémon Go to the polls!"
Hillary Clinton's attempt to turn the popularity of Pokémon Go into a 2016 rallying cry was so desperate and weird that you almost had to admire it. "Pokémon Go to the polls!" has since become a meme as well as the leading example of a politician trying way, way too hard to connect with young voters.
Clinton's quip was more than just a funny campaign moment, though. As ABC News' Liz Kreutz reported at the time, Clinton actually had to be "briefed by staffers on Pokémon Go … while flying back to D.C." While one can't expect then-69-year-old Clinton to have organically learned about the video game, the fact that she required briefings on "kids these days" exacerbates the fact that she was out of touch with a large portion of voters.
Certainly we don't elect politicians for having their thumb on the cultural pulse, but disasters like the recent Senate hearing on Facebook — in which politicians painfully struggled to grill founder Mark Zuckerberg — prove that understanding the youth and the world they inhabit isn't just a question of relatability.
1. How does your student loan debt make you feel?
Debilitating student debt is neither "fun" nor great fodder for a viral Twitter game. That didn't stop Hillary Clinton from asking young voters to depict crushing economic anxiety in 2015 "in three emojis or less."
How does your student loan debt make you feel?
Tell us in 3 emojis or less.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 12, 2015
Clinton's tweet, which you could be forgiven for mistaking for the Onion, immediately sparked backlash from the very people the campaign was trying to pander to. "You know what people who went to college can use?" tweeted one irate respondent, "Words." Added Red Alert Politics, "many of Clinton's Twitter followers understandably felt that she downplayed the problem by asking for their thoughts on the issue via emoji."
The incident was not only embarrassing, it was insulting — both to the intelligence of young voters, who don't need emojis to articulate the ramifications of student debt on their lives, but also to the dignity of millennials and Gen-Zers, who deserve to be spoken to as the grown-ups that they are.