The Hillary Clinton campaign is deploying former Vice President Al Gore to rev up the youth vote, the Washington Post reported this week.
The announcement elicited a lot of mockery from various corners of the right. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) scoffed on Twitter that he heard Gore is hosting a Clinton campaign event for millennials "sponsored by Alta Vista & featuring Ace of Base. It's gonna be the bomb..." For those of you too young or too old to remember, those used to be things.
Radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt played an extended clip from the TV series "South Park" in which Al Gore pompously warns of the threat from ManBearPig, a "creature that is half man, half bear and half pig." Hewitt went on to suggest that using Gore was a mistake because millennials were raised on "South Park" and can't stand Gore.
Now, as the columnist who wrote the first (and still most important) piece addressing the vital question of whether or not Gore is an alien -- he was born about nine months after the UFO incident in Roswell New Mexico, for what that's worth -- I take a back seat to no one in the time-honored practice of Gore-mockery. Indeed, the idea that the Clinton campaign has tapped the one major political figure who makes Hillary seem relaxed, easygoing and hip is funny on its face. If the two appear together, some might even respond, "Huh! I never noticed until now how surprisingly lifelike Hillary Clinton is."
But there are a couple of problems here. The first is a narrow point. The Clinton campaign has activated Gore to woo millennials who are worried about global warming, not young people generally. That makes a lot of sense.
The headlines about Clinton's "millennial problem" can be misleading. Yes, she has a problem with them, but it's not that she's losing the youth vote to Trump. She's crushing Trump among young voters by double digits. An ABC News/Washington Post poll showed her beating Trump among people ages 18-39 by a margin of 51-27. Another recent poll of likely millennial voters ages 18-30 had Clinton leading Trump by a 74-2 margin among blacks, 71-6 among Asians, 64-9 among Latinos, and 41-31 among whites.
Clinton will crush Trump among young voters. Her problem is that there may not be a lot of young people who vote. Democrats need young voters. If the legal voting age in 2008 had been 35, John McCain would have beaten Barack Obama.
Then there's the broader point: It's silly to talk about millennials as a homogenous group, not just racially but in most things. Sure, some generalizations are possible about a cohort that grew up with the internet versus one that didn't. But generational stereotyping is the first refuge of lazy journalists and people with low self-esteem. Reporters love to reduce large segments of the population to neat categories because it's easier to write broadly that way.
It's funny: When writers over-generalize about race, ethnicity or gender, controversy usually follows. But if you pretend you "know" someone's beliefs and desires just by looking at their date of birth, no one blinks an eye. As a matter of logic, that's a form of prejudice, too.
By no means am I suggesting that young people should take knee-jerk offense at ageism. Nor am I saying that young people are no different than old people. Anyone who was young -- which includes every non-dead non-young person in the world -- knows that youth has its good points and bad.
But being young is no accomplishment. Which gets me to the point about self-esteem. People who take excessive pride in being a member of a generation -- any generation -- are basically declaring that they have nothing better to brag about. There was no heroic "greatest generation." Rather, there were a bunch of individual people who did heroic things. If you spent D-Day drunk at a bar in Cleveland, you get no more credit for storming the beach at Normandy than I do.
Gore may help Hillary with millennials who consider him the pope of the Church of Environmentalism (just as septuagenarian socialist Bernie Sanders might help with millennial socialists). Millennials who think Gore is a plodding, sanctimonious huckster might say, "Hey it's the ManBearPig guy!"
That's as it should be, because any group of 74 million Americans is going to defy the secular astrology that passes as generational analysis.